AJR duo secure maiden victory
26 March 2006
Patrick Long and Mike Rockenfeller have secured their first victory in the Grand Am Rolex Series – and the first overall win for Porsche in two and a half years – after finishing on top of the podium in the Grand Prix of Homestead.
Despite starting from pole position in the #23 Crawford Porsche, Rockenfeller didn't lead for the first time until lap 16. The German turned the car over to Long for the race's middle stint and the American also found his way to the head of the field for 24 laps before handing the car back to Rockenfeller on lap 70 of the 107-lap event.
Despite a different pit strategy than the rest of the front runners, Rockenfeller managed to carve his way back toward the front, with the race's decisive moment coming on lap 89, when he passed Scott Pruett in the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley in heavy traffic entering the oval portion of the 2.3-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
Rockenfeller - who led a race-high 40 laps - would not be challenged for the remainder of the event, going on to win by 4.883 seconds.
“At the beginning I thought that the #39 car had jumped the start, but the series officials did not see it that way,” he said. “I was able to catch him and pass a few laps later and we really never looked back. The strategy calls were great today. The pit stops were timed just right and we had the fresh car when we needed it, especially at the end. The team worked hard in the preseason to get the car to Daytona where we had a good run but could not finish it, today we did finish.”
The victory marked the Porsche's return to the top step of the overall Rolex Series podium for the first time since David Donohue and Mike Borkowski won a six-hour race at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant on September 21, 2003. It was also the first Rolex Series overall victory for Alex Job Racing/Emory Motorsports and was Alex Job Racing's first overall win in 18 years of sports car racing.
The victory follows a third-place finish by Long, Rockenfeller and Lucas Luhr in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the team did not compete in the Mexico City 250 earlier this month.
“We had a great car, surrounded by a great team, with great strategy on top,” Long said. “I had to be a little foxy on the restarts because I new that the #39 car was coming. I was the team player today. In the end, Mike did an awesome job in qualifying and we were able to complete what we started at Daytona. We worked hard all week on race setup and it paid off in the race with a consistent car. We knew exactly the kind of performance we would get on long runs. It's a great win for the team and for Mike and me.”
Luhr and Christian Fittipaldi came home second in the #39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford for the team's best-ever Rolex Series result. Fittipaldi charged from the outside of the front row into the lead at the start of the race, and remained at the head of the field for the first 15 laps. He turned the car over to Luhr to finish the race, and the German boldly charged past Pruett for second just as the white flag waved.
“At one point in the race I had a really good run at the #23 car,” Luhr said. “But lapped traffic held me up a bit, allowing the #01 car by. When I saw the white flag come out, I knew that I didn't have a choice. I had to go for it. The whole weekend was great for me. The team made me feel very comfortable, like I am around all the time. I felt very welcome from the first moment.”
The runner-up result enabled Fittipaldi to move into second place in the Daytona Prototype driver standings after three of 14 events. The Brazilian trails #76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley driver Jörg Bergmeister, who leads by just four points following an eighth place finish.
“This was a great result for the Cheever Racing team,” Fittipaldi said. “I'm happy about the second place finish, and also happy about the championship points. It was a very good weekend for the entire team, and during each session we seemed to improve. Now, I'm looking forward to our next race in Long Beach.”
Pruett and co-driver Luis Diaz claimed the final spot on the podium – securing a second straight top-three finish following victory in the Mexico City 250 three weeks ago. The performance also allowed Pruett and Diaz to continue their forward progress in the Daytona Prototype championship standings, as they are currently tied for third with #19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms Ford Crawford co-drivers Memo Gidley and Michael McDowell.
“I definitely got a little bit of help there toward the end,” Pruett said. “It was good hard racing and I was doing all I could do to hang the CompUSA car out of the edge. Overall, I thought it was a competitive race and a good show. We managed to get another top five and that's what we need to do to keep moving up in the point standings. That's all that counts.
“I can say that the Ganassi team used all of its resources to get that result tonight, the guys really worked hard on fuel mileage and getting us to the end.”
“Scott did a fantastic job tonight and proved once again why he is the class of the Daytona Prototype field,” added Diaz. “He drove the car to the limit, and then past the limit. The guy is amazing sometimes. He deserves this result for the great effort he put forth tonight. It was a tough race and a very competitive race for us. Scott did everything in his power to keep us in it in the end.”
McDowell and Gidley picked up their best result of the season with a fourth-place run for Playboy/Uniden Racing, finishing just ahead of team-mates Michael Valiante and Rob Finlay in the #5 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs/Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford. Valiante and Finlay charged all the way from 18th on the starting grid, earning them the SunTrust Improve Your Position honours.
In a thrilling conclusion to the GT class, Paul Edwards powered his #64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R past Sylvain Tremblay in the #70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 on the penultimate lap and held off the South Florida resident the rest of the way to clinch a second-consecutive GT class victory for himself and co-driver Kelly Collins.
The Pontiac and the Mazda engaged in one of the tightest battles on the track throughout the race, changing positions a number of times before Edwards dived inside Tremblay on lap 106 of the 107-lap event.
“I had a great car under me tonight,” Edwards said. “Kelly did a great job to make up ground from our qualifying position and the cool air really favoured our race setup. The handling of the car really gave me the confidence to hunt down the #70 car at the end of the race.”
Collins qualified the #64 Pontiac fifth in class, and ran near the front of the GT pack throughout his stint, handing control to Edwards during the race's first caution period. The duo also drove to victory earlier this month in the Mexico City 250, and with the Homestead win, climbed to the head of the GT points leader-board. The duo lead team-mate, #65 TRG Pontiac GTO.R driver Andy Lally, by four points, 88-84, with three of 13 races in the books.
“I got a pretty good start and was able to make up some the ground that we lost with our qualifying troubles,” Collins said. “The car was really good all of the way through my stint. Paul did a great job at the end to run down the leader and put the pass on him with two laps to go. Two wins in a row gives us the points lead.”
Tremblay's team-mate - David Haskell - started the #70 Mazda just one position ahead of Collins, and the defending Grand-Am Cup Series Street Tuner class champion wheeled the machine until a full-course caution on lap 37. Tremblay put the car at the class front later in the race, but after conceding the position to Edwards on lap 106, couldn't catch the TRG machine the rest of the way. He finished just 0.125-seconds in arrears of the #64 car.
“I'm so proud of everyone that has worked on this car since Daytona,” Tremblay said. “It was unfortunate that we couldn't hold the lead for the win, but for the car's second race in the GT class, a runner-up finish isn't too bad. Running in the Grand-Am Cup Series here in the past gave this team a lot of information heading into this weekend, and in our home race, I'm just glad we were able to put on a good show.”
The class pole-sitting #72 NEC/Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 came home third, as Wolf Henzler led the first portion of the race before handing off to team-mate Robin Liddell. However, a pit stop at a later caution period shuffled the machine back in the class running order.
“The problem with any caution, and of course it was compounded here because there were so many, is that if you're more than ten cars behind the leader when you go green you get caught up in a lot of traffic with the two classes mixed up and it becomes a real battle ground,” Liddell said. “In addition to trying to run my race I was constantly looking out for other cars spun out off course or debris on the track.
“We had to be more cautious just to stay safe. It's a huge disappointment, but I think that if we had a couple more laps we could have caught up and finished on top where we started, but there just wasn't enough time.”
Matthew Alhadeff and Bill Auberlen finished fourth in the #05 Alhadeff Motorsports/ Motul/ GRW.com.mx/ enVista BMW M3, for the tandem's best finish of the year, with Emil Assentato and Nick Longhi rounded out the top five in the No. 22 Hazardous Sports/ FXDO/ Denon Porsche GT3 of Fiorano Racing.