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Grand Am: Lexus gets first win with Pruett, Papis

24 May 2004


The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series had its fourth different winner in as many races, as Scott Pruett and Max Papis co-drove the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley to the first-ever victory for a Lexus-powered Daytona Prototype in the 6 Heures du Circuit Mont-Tremblant.

The #01 led six different times for a race-high total of 128 laps, and Pruett claimed the lead for the final time from fourth place on lap 175 when David Donohue spun the race-leading #58 Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar into the Turn 8 gravel trap under pressure from Jan Magnussen in the #27 Doran Lista Racing Lexus Doran. Magnussen and third-place Oswaldo Negri Jr., in the #6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Doran, made their final pit stops as the full-course caution flag came out. Pruett, who pitted for the final time 11 laps earlier, stayed on the race track and retook the lead.

Pruett pulled away from defending Rolex Series champion Terry Borcheller in the #54 Kodak Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran and the rest of the field on the ensuing restart and was never challenged over the closing laps. Borcheller eventually surrendered second place to Magnussen, and the race finished under caution after six hours and an even 200 laps when John Lloyd made contact with the Turn 4 barrier following an off-course excursion on Lap 197. The triumph also moved Pruett and Papis into the Daytona Prototype championship lead at the season's one-third distance.

"It was great for Chip Ganassi Racing, for Lexus, for CompUSA," Pruett said. "The first win is always the most difficult to get and always the sweetest. Max did a great job, the guys did a great job, and the car never missed a beat. The car was so much fun to drive and this is a fun track."

The win was the first-ever in Rolex Series competition for Pruett and the Ganassi team, and was the first Daytona Prototype triumph for Papis.

"This win is fantastic," exclaimed Papis. "To give the first win in Grand American racing to (team owner) Chip (Ganassi), Lexus, and CompUSA is wonderful. We really wanted this one very bad. Winning four consecutive poles was great, but we knew that we had the speed to win and it was just a matter of putting it all together. This win a true team success."

"Obviously, we've won a lot of poles and we've had a good season so far, but we hadn't brought a victory home," Ganassi added. "That's what racing is all about."

Magnussen and co-driver Didier Theys finished second for their best finish of the season and the team's best finish since a second-place run in the Grand American Champions Weekend at Daytona International Speedway to close out the 2003 season. This was Magnussen's first appearance in the #27 since the Grand Prix of Miami in February, and was just his second appearance ever in Grand American competition.

"I'm happy for the team," Magnussen said. "It didn't look like we'd get on the podium for a while. Obviously, I'd like to win, but second is good, and I had no trouble with anybody today. We had some damage to the left front, and the Crawford - I think it's the #4 - he ran out of fuel or something and just stopped in front of me. We worked through all sorts of tire compounds. We really chased the track today. Our Lexus engine was very good. I'm glad we're on the podium. It was a hard-fought race all the way. You were always fighting with somebody."

"It was a very competitive race," Theys offered. "There were so many different leaders and the cars are so closely matched. We tried different tyre compounds today. When I was in the car, I didn't like my tyre compound. The track was very slippery, and I was not comfortable. Then, when Jan was in the car, we found a compound that we liked."

Borcheller and co-driver Andy Pilgrim brought the #54 home in third place, returning the Kodak-Bell Motorsports team to the podium for the first time since its victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona to open the 2004 season. Forest Barber was on the entry list, but did not drive.

"To come out of the weekend with a podium finish is just great," Borcheller said. "We had obstacles from the beginning of the weekend throughout the whole race. Andy got hit on his first flying lap and we went a lap down. A front wheel came off twice, luckily it was under yellow both times. One time it came totally off the car. That happened on the back straight. I had to drive it back to the pits on three wheels, but it was fun to always be in contention. I drove about four hours and my muscles are tired, but I really feel fine. I could drink some water and go some more today."

"I think it was the hardest-fought third place I've ever had," Pilgrim contributed. "We overcame so many challenges that it feels like a win. We did not have a top-three car today, we had a top-10 car, so to get third is a phenomenal achievement for the team."

"I didn't drive because I was more concerned with our finishing position today, and we had to go with our top drivers," Barber explained. "In spite of a lot of obstacles, we overcame them and got a podium finish."

The #4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford in the hands of Butch Leitzinger, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, and Paul Edwards had its best finish of the season to date with a fourth-place performance despite the late fuel pick-up problems. Rounding out the top five were Milka Duno, Andy Wallace, and Jan Lammers in the #2 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford, which finished inside the top five for the third time in four starts this season. Negri and Burt Frisselle gave Michael Shank Racing its fourth top-six in four starts with a sixth place performance.

Elsewhere, former championship-leading teammates Kelly Collins and Cort Wagner soldiered home with a seventh place result despite no track time on Friday or Saturday due to mechanical gremlins on the #81 Rx.Com/G&W Motorsports BMW Doran. They remain second in the points just two markers out of the lead (116-114). It also turned out to be a tough weekend for the #10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley and the #02 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley.

After a promising start by Max Angelelli that included a brief appearance at the head of the field, the #10 was forced to pit lane early in the race due to a steady display of smoke and accompanying fluid from the rear of the car. The problem would rear its ugly head intermittently throughout the race, forcing Angelelli and co-drivers Emanuel Collard and Wayne Taylor to settle for an 18th place overall finish and a 13th place result in the Daytona Protoype class.

Likewise, the #02 machine of Luis Diaz and Jimmy Morales showed promise at the four-hour mark after losing a lap early in the race due to a punctured tyre, eventually advancing as high as fourth place. However, the car lost its right rear tyre on Lap 141 and several laps for repairs, and the #02 ended up with a 10th place result.

In the GT class Boris Said and Bill Auberlen scored a "hat trick" in Canada, taking their third consecutive win in the #21 Performance Technology Group BMW M3. They led virtually throughout, at one point building a lead in excess of two laps.

However, the team overcame a severely damaged nose when Said made contact with the #77 G&W Motorsports Porsche GT3 RS, and the duo brought the car home 20 seconds ahead of the #66 The Racers Group Porsche GT3 RS of Ian James, RJ Valentine and Chris Gleason. The #33 Scuderia Ferrari of Washington Maserati Light GT co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Emil Asentato and Stephen Earle was third.

"(The car) ran great all day," Said remarked. "Then I came up on the #77 Porsche on the corner coming up on the straightaway. I wasn't going to pass it, but something broke or he hit the brakes on accident and I got into it. It was a dumb mistake on my part. Sometime when you have a big lead, you are just cruising and you don't concentrate as hard. That's what happened today. We had a lot of speed left in the car; it was really tough car."

The victory also moved Said and Auberlen into the GT points lead after four of 12 races.

"Sometimes we need a little luck," Auberlen said. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. When we got in that thing with the other Porsche, it could have ended our day. Luckily, it broke just enough parts that we could fix it. Up until that point the BMW and the PTG team was perfect. Let's just put this thing back together and go to the next race and hope for the best."

In Super Grand Sport action, the #36 TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup of Randy Pobst and Michael Levitas had a flawless afternoon, and the driving duo widened their points lead with a two-lap victory over their TPC Racing teammates Andy Lally and Marc Bunting in the #38 Porsche GT3 Cup. Quebecois Marc-Antoine Camirand and Normand Guindon finished third in the #07 Powell Motorsport Corvette. It was the second straight victory for the #36, and the drivers have not failed to finish outside the top-two positions yet this season.

"This is the third year I have driven with Michael Levitas," Pobst said. "This year Michael has really raised the level of the team. We have a new crew of young men he hired out of a tech school in the Baltimore-Maryland area. They don't know a lot about racing, but they know about working on cars. They've done a fantastic job. After a six hour race, they run first and second. Michael builds some fast Porsches. We just got them covered."

"This is two in a row," Levitas added. "It was great to have the Turbo Performance team do just a stellar job. The guys are just amazing. The teammate work was just so fantastic. They boys never miss a beat."


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