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23221After disappointing results at <A HREF="">Virginia International Raceway</A> and <A HREF="">New Jersey's Thunderbolt Raceway</A>, bracketed by a couple of heartbreakingly close second-place finishes at <A HREF="">Daytona</A> and <A HREF="">Laguna Seca</A>, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team and their #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype racer were certainly chomping at the bit for their first victory of the year. The fifth event of 2009 season is the second (and final) "long/endurance" event, the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen, at New York's historic Watkins Glen on Saturday 6 June, which kicked off at 2:15 PM. Such endurance races have traditionally been a Lexus forte, but would it be enough to bring the team an elusive '09 win?

<A HREF="">A YouTube video appearing on the Official Grand-Am website</A> takes us on two laps around the hallowed track, driven by none other than former Southard Motorsports Lexus driver Shane Lewis. He is now the Club Pro at the Palm Beach Driving Club (the former Moroso racetrack north of Palm Beach, Florida) and an occasional (endurance race) Grand-Am driver for the 2009 season. Yes, a number of teams took on a third driver for the 6-hour event, but the Ganassi Lexus team stuck to its two core drivers, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, and it served them quite well, for Pruett beat the track record by two seconds Saturday, to win the team's third pole of the season with a lap of 1:40.744 (121.496 mph). "Hopefully, we can start turning poles into victories," Pruett said. "I've always liked this track, and the Ganassi guys have done well here. It's nice to have the TELMEX car up front. But six hours is a long race." Pruett was joined on the front row by Alex Gurney in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley co-driven by Jon Fogarty. A gracious Gurney said that "The No. 01 got in a really good lap. They put a good car out there, and Scott did a real good job. It's nice for us to be on the front row. It's going to be a long, tough day tomorrow. Hopefully, we can keep it clean."

As the race got under way, Scott Pruett held his pole position lead for the first 21 laps and, on Lap 22, entered the pits for fuel and a driver change, as Memo Rojas took the helm of the #01 TELMEX Lexus. By Lap 29, Rojas worked his way up to fifth place. After his first driving stint, Pruett said that the car "was getting a bit free. We actually softened the front springs, thinking we were going to pick up a bit of push, but it's a bit free. We also made a mistake on our pit stop, we didn't put in as much fuel as we wanted to. So we're fighting two things in the TELMEX car, but the car's running good. Memo's doing a good job and we're fighting our way back. We're hoping the track comes back to us, because the temperature is going to change a lot later in the race. We're making small adjustments, knowing what to expect between 7 and 8 tonight." Also noteworthy is the SPEED TV telecast comment that the Lexus tends to run with minimal downforce (a good 250-350 lbs less than the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac).

During the race's third full-caution period, on Lap 62, Memo Rojas wound up in the lead and, as the green flag flew to resume racing two laps later, Rojas maintained that lead all the way through Lap 91, when he pulled into the pits for a quick driver change. Without missing a beat, Scott Pruett regained the lead on Lap 93, and held on to it until Lap 122, when he once again pitted, and fell to third place. Memo Rojas said of his stint that "It's going pretty good. We've had no problems all day. We're just trying to get through the hours, and see where we are with one hour to go." It must be noted that Rojas' much improved physical shape and increased confidence versus last year allowed him to drive a 3-hour stretch that, by his own admission, he couldn't have handled a year ago.

The third place was a very temporary situation, for, on Lap 124, the single most pivotal event of the race occurred when #58 Brumos Racing Porsche/Riley driver David Donohue tried to pass #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley driver Alex Gurney in Turn 8 and the two collided, sending the #99 spinning into the gravel trap and leaving the #58 stopped between Turns 8 and 9. With the #99 said to have a broken suspension (and requiring a flatbed tow which itself damaged the floorboard) and the #58 reporting a broken part in the drive train, the two leading teams in the 2009 points standings effectively took each other out of the race just around its fourth hour. Or, more precisely, Donohue took himself and Gurney out, as, during post-race commentary, Gurney noted that a contrite Donohue came over to apologize for the incident.

23222Cleaning up that mess led to the race's longest caution period, during which Scott Pruett and the #01 TELMEX Lexus regained the lead, which he held from Lap 125 through the Lap 131 restart until pitting on Lap 151. On Lap 154, Pruett for the final time regained the lead, but, even though by Lap 175 he was leading Max Angelelli in the #10 SunTrust Ford/Dallara by a margin of by 4.988 seconds, it was hardly a case of cruising home for the win. In fact, a late Lap 187 full-course caution (the race's seventh) provoked by the #57 Pontiac GXP.R GT racer spinning into the gravel trap in Turn 8 (yes, again) threatened to derail the Pruett/Rojas victory, since this late caution added a lap to the race, and the Ganassi/Sabatés team seriously feared that the Lexus' fuel would run out before crossing the finish line. Fortunately, the fears proved to be unfounded, and the #01 TELMEX racer scored its first win of the season, by a slender margin of 0.154 seconds.

Overall, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas combined to lead 142 of the 188 laps, with Pruett leading a race-high 112 laps, as well as setting the fastest lap of the race - 1:41.426 - on Lap 178. Pruett and Rojas are now tied for the series championship lead with two other drivers - Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle - with 140 points. Former point co-leaders Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty fell to third in points with 135. As Scott Pruett accurately pointed out, "The championship is back to being a nail-biter. It's going to be a fight with the SunTrust, GAINSCO and Penske teams. There are a lot of guys in the mix and a lot of exciting racing going on. It's going to go down to the wire at Homestead-Miami Speedway." Um...Scott...don't forget the Brumos team...

Post-Race Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "Disastrous at first. We came in for a pit stop and everything was going good. Then five laps in they're saying, ‘You've got to go full lean. You've got to save fuel. You're going too fast. Every lap, you've got to slow down. So the lap time kept going slower and slower. I really hate driving that way. I mean, I really hate driving that way! We were able to save some fuel that way. I'm not sure what happened, and what had taken place, but about midway or three-quarters through the stint, they came back on and said it's going to be okay, you can run mid-position on fuel and just go. So that's what I did. We thought we were real good to the end, but the yellow came out."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley (winner, Daytona Prototypes): "I'm really happy for our team, the first win of the season. We struggled at the beginning of the year. It's motivation for the team to get this momentum going. Scott did an awesome job. The car was very good all day. We can't complain. We made some adjustments. It was fast. We had issues with the balance but it was always fast. That was good. We were able to keep a good pace and win the race in the end. The championship battle is close. This helps to get the ball rolling."

For the sixth event of the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype season, the teams travel to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the EMCO Gears Classic Saturday 20 June. This will be televised on SPEED TV live starting at 5 PM Eastern Time.

Our thanks to <A HREF="">the official Grand-Am racing website</A> and Travis Braun of <A HREF="">AutoWeek</A> for this information.


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