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Übercargeek
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
18811The inaugural Supercar Life 250 Grand Am Daytona Prototype race at the all-new 2¼-mile, 14-turn Thunderbolt Raceway portion of New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville seemed to place the entire racing field on more equal footing, given that it was a new venue with which all competitors were equally unfamiliar. The event got off to a less than auspicious start during its Thursday 28 August Promoter Test Day, unfortunately, as Scott Pruett, driving the #01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés Lexus/Riley, was exiting the final turn when a GT car spun in front of him. When he took evasive action, Pruett's car snapped sideways and impacted the end of the barrier separating pit road from the racing circuit. The impact tore the car in half, shearing the back half of the car away from the cockpit, which luckily remained intact as it slid down pit lane, with Pruett coming to a stop on pit road. "All I remember was there was a white Porsche in front of me, and he checked up," Pruett later said of the incident. "When he swerved over in front of me, I swerved to miss him, and that's it." The crash was described by some as the worst in Daytona Prototype history.

<A HREF="http://auto-racing.speedtv.com/article/grand-am-pruett-injured-in-crash/">An article on the SPEED TV website</A> reported that Scott Pruett was was unconscious for several minutes but regained consciousness as he was being loaded into the ambulance. Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Tim Mead, who accompanied Pruett to the emergency room, reported that Scott was awake, alert and able to move all limbs, but complained of a lot of back and neck pain. Emergency room doctors later confirmed Scott was suffering from a concussion, but he showed no other apparent major trauma, and, ultimately was given the green light to race. "I'm a little sore, but good," Pruett later said. "They wanted to take me to the hospital to take all the precautions. The TELMEX Ganassi guys stepped up, and we're coming up with a game plan and getting on with it. They're hauling to get up to Indianapolis and get our spare car together, and get it turned around to be here for Sunday." That "spare car" is the older Riley body and chassis that last saw action in the 2008 season-opening <A HREF="http://my.is/forums/f47/lexus-threepeats-24-hours-daytona-winners-351896/">Rolex 24 at Daytona race</A> and was now disassembled. The bodywork was on a show car, while the chassis was in the shop. A Ganassi team truck arrived back in Indianapolis at midnight Thursday night and the team went to work at 5 a.m. on Friday morning replacing the bodywork and prepping the car. 16 hours later, the car was assembled and ready to go. At 7 a.m. Saturday morning, the car was loaded for transport back to the Jersey shore where it arrived late afternoon that day. After seeing how the newer #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley wound up after the untimely crash (see the picture in the post following this article), it's little wonder the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team hustled to bring the older car from Indianapolis to New Jersey.

Meanwhile, the Ganassi team did not let the Friday practice session go to waste, as the Southard Motorsports team generously allowed Ganassi co-driver Memo Rojas to get in a few laps behind the wheel of Southard's #3 Lexus Riley and gain experience around the Thunderbolt Raceway layout. "Fortunately, both cars are Rileys, so as soon as I sat in the (Southard) car it was familiar," Rojas said. "The only thing is I really didn't get to push. I only did a few laps, because I didn't get to run yesterday and I'm not familiar with this track. I got to learn the braking references and how to get around. I will need a few more laps to get up to speed. That's good. I really want to thank them, because it will be tough to race without knowing the track. Those few laps really helped."

The Ganassi team wasn't able to have the older #01 TELMEX car ready for qualifying on Saturday, so it started the Sunday 31 August race from the final (17th) position on the Daytona Prototype grid, from pit lane. Shane Lewis qualified the #3 Southard car in 13th place, but the fates were about to deal the Lexus teams yet another painful blow. The Supercar Life 250 is one of six events on the Grand Am Rolex Series schedule that coincides with a lower-rung Grand Am KONI Challenge race at the same venue, and Shane Lewis was running a Scott Pruett-like two-races-on-one-weekend marathon, only, in Lewis' case, the two races were mere hours apart at the same track. Shane Lewis was competing in the 8:45 AM KONI race in the #92 HART Honda Civic SI (which qualified 24th in the Street Touring class, and 50th overall on the grid) when, on Lap 43 of the 73-lap race, his car was struck from behind on a re-start on the track's high-speed main straightaway, going off the driver's left on the front straight and making contact with the outside pit lane retaining wall. Lewis suffered no injuries or concussion in the accident but officials erred on the side of caution and refused medical clearance for him to drive in the Daytona Prototype event that started less than three hours after the KONI race accident. This, of course, set off a mad scramble to find a replacement co-driver to join Bill Lester in the #3 Southard Lexus. Finally, by the Rolex Series race's 1 PM starting time, the Southards asked KONI Challenge racer (in the #73 Compass360 Acura TSX) Ken Wilden to serve as Lester's co-driver and race starter. Wilden formerly raced for Michael Shank Racing and has experience in Daytona Prototypes in 2005. A full-course yellow on Lap 1 played into the Southard strategy of having Wilden drive the required minimum of one lap for a co-driver and pit early for Bill Lester to take over on Lap 3, a full 4 laps before the Green flag was waved to resume racing.

By Lap 19, Scott Pruett (who was the starting driver for the #01 TELMEX Lexus) had advanced from 17th place into fourth. Two laps later (at the end of a second full-course yellow period) Pruett had further advanced to second place, behind only the #58 Brumos Porsche/Riley driven by David Donohue. Pruett held onto second place until Lap 31, when he was passed by Mark Wilkins in the #61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley. On Lap 37, Pruett lost yet another position, at the hand of Joey Hand and the #23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche/Crawford. Shortly thereafter, Pruett entered the pits to allow for co-driver Memo Rojas to take over. This driver change was a slow one, no doubt because of the pain Pruett was under, and Rojas re-entered the race in 10th place. He went on to gain one position, finishing the race in 9th place.

The Thunderbolt Raceway in New Jersey Motorsports Park proved a challenging venue for the teams not only due to its design (at times narrow and not passing-friendly) but because of the lack of grass lining the circuit. If a car dropped two wheels off the edge of the track it would kick-up a blinding cloud of dust and scatter dirt and rocks across the track surface (Indeed, there were five cautions for 25 laps, with many of them for debris and gravel following off course excursions). Should a driver be so unlucky to put four wheels off the track, the results could be disastrous. This was the case for Bill Lester in the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley when, on Lap 76, he ran wide at the Turn 4 and 5 complex, going off course, spinning and shoving dirt on the track. The Riley chassis dug deep into the dirt "runoff" area and was immediately coated with nearly two inches of soil across the hood, roof, rear cowling and rear wing. Extrication from the dry quagmire of topsoil took several laps and resulted in additional damage to the car's front 'splitter' - an aerodynamic device designed to create downforce. Once back in pit lane, the Rich Howe-led crew ascertained that the damage to the car was not only cosmetic but functional as well - including the engine air intake being completely clogged with New Jersey earth - and repairs would take longer than what was left in the race. The car was then officially retired.

By finishing ninth in New Jersey, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team clinched the 2008 Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Team Championship. Their lead over the second-place GAINSCO Pontiac team (Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney) stands at 38 points (386 for Ganassi versus 348 for GAINSCO) and, since teams may score a maximum 35 points at each event, even a GAINSCO victory at the final race of the season (the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 at Utah's Miller Motorsports Park on Saturday 20 September) and the Ganassi team's failure to finish would still leave the GAINSCO team 3 points short of the Team Championship. As to the Drivers' Championship, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas share the same 38-point lead over Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, but, per Grand Am rules, still need to race 30 minutes each at Miller for both to earn the Driver’s Championship title. Unfortunately, Pontiac's lead over Lexus in the Engine Manufacturers' standings has further stretched to 24 points.

Post-Race Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "It's awesome. I'm a little sore right this second, but I just can't say enough about the whole Ganassi team, Lexus, Telmex, of course, Memo. Just a fantastic job to rally back from what started off as a horrific weekend. To do what we've done all season long, it's just awesome. That's the heart and soul of Ganassi. It's all the guys, it's a team effort. It's everybody pulling together. It's late nights. It's the desire to become champions. And in no short order, with Lexus and all their help and support and moving engines around while everything is taking place, it's just been fantastic. I'm beat up and I'm sore. I feel like somebody's been punching me in the ribcage, but my wife's been here taking care of me and now I'm really looking forward to a couple weeks off to enjoy it."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "The whole Ganassi team just did a great job. Traveling back to Indy and working 16 hours in a day to get the other car put together just to get back here and race is incredible. I have to admit, we had a lot of anxiety this morning, not knowing what to expect today and to overcome all of the adversity really says something about these guys. I'm just really happy right now."

Shane Lewis, #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus: "I'm sore but I'm okay. I guess it was a pretty crazy ride looking at it from the outside. From inside it was like my high school bull riding days. Everything was bouncing around and there was a lot of dirt and dust. I can't tell you how disappointing it was when I heard the doctors weren't going to let me drive in the Southard car. That hurt more than the accident ever could. It was just a tough weekend; really disappointing for a lot of reasons. The Southard guys worked so hard to get the car back in one piece after Sonoma. We really wanted to give them a good result this weekend. They didn't get the reward they deserve."

Steve Southard, Team Owner: "Another tough race for us. The track wasn't ready for this type of an event. We were here too soon and it showed. Scott's incident [point leading driver Scott Pruett had a heavy accident during Friday's session], Shane's incident, the fact that Grand-Am was penalizing cars for going off the pavement. It was not a good situation. We don't know why Bill went off the racing surface but the fact that he then ended up in over 12 inches of loose dirt is inexcusable. Bill drove a great race. Our one-stop strategy was working perfectly and we were heading toward a top-ten finish. Then it all came undone in the dirt. We want to thank Kenny Wilden for subbing for Shane at the absolute last minute."

Our thanks to <A HREF="http://www.grand-am.com/rolex/">the official Grand-Am racing website</A>, <A HREF="http://www.southardmotorsports.com/">the Southard Motorsports website</A>, <A HREF="http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080831/FREE/808319995">Travis Braun of AutoWeek</A> and John Procida for Lexus/Toyota Motorsports for this information.
 

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Übercargeek
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Discussion Starter #2
This is a particularly cool picture of the #01 TELMEX Lexus:



and here's how the #01 wound up after Scott Pruett's horrific crash:

 
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