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Braun becomes youngest winner

30 June 2006

Playing the fuel strategy game to perfection, 17-year-old Colin Braun became the youngest winner in Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series history and his #76 Krohn Racing co-driver Jörg Bergmeister extended his Daytona Prototype points lead with their victory in the Brumos Porsche 250 under the lights of Daytona International Speedway.

After starting second, Braun drove the race's opening stint and took the lead from polesitter Luis Diaz in the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley when Diaz pitted on lap 34 of the 70-lap event to turn the car over to co-driver Scott Pruett. One lap later—at the halfway point in the race—Braun came onto pit lane to turn the #76 machine over to Bergmeister.

The extra lap coupled with excellent fuel mileage from the Ford powerplant would enable Bergmeister to drive the rest of the race without making another pit stop. The other front-runners would not have the same luxury, and on lap 66 race leader Patrick Long in the #23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford and second-place Pruett pulled onto pit lane for 'splash and go' stops. That opened the door for Bergmeister to take the lead and the German would not be challenged over the remaining five laps en-route to a 16.498-second victory over Long in the #23 machine.

It was Bergmeister's second victory in the past three races—he co-drove to the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen win with road racing star Boris Said — and was his third-consecutive top-two result. With four races remaining in the 2006 Rolex Series season, Bergmeister leads Pruett and Diaz by 31 points, 358-327.

"It was really difficult," Bergmeister said. "I felt I was a little quicker, so I had to be really patient (to conserve fuel). I was lifting a lot to save a lot of fuel. On the last lap, I ran out of fuel, so it was just perfect."

In addition to becoming the youngest winner in Rolex Series history at the age of 17 years, nine months and seven days, Braun is also believed to be the youngest winner of a major league auto race in North America. Braun shattered the previous record for a youngest Rolex Series winner, held by Michael McDowell, who won the 2005 season finale in Mexico City at 20 years, 10 months and 15 days. It was Braun's second-straight Rolex Series podium, as he finished second alongside Bergmeister in the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course five days ago, and was his fourth podium result of the season. Despite missing two of the first 10 races, Braun currently ranks sixth in the Daytona Prototype championship standings.

"This is really nice to have this," Braun said. "I have to thank the Roush/Yates guys for building a great engine—that won us the race right there. Having a great team like this behind me is just fantastic and I can't ask for anything better than that."

Long and Rockenfeller combined to lead 37 laps and both drivers battled their counterparts in the #01 Lexus Riley virtually throughout the event before the late pit stop. The second-place result marked a return to the podium for the Ruby Tuesday team-mates, as the duo earned its first top-three result since their victory in April's VIR 400. Rockenfeller and Long opened the season with four-consecutive podiums, but had not finished better than 15th in their last four races. They missed round two in Mexico City.

"I don't know what's more snake-bit, running out of mileage or not finishing the race," Long said. "I had to really push. Scott was running me really hard and I had to run the defensive line. (The #76) did good on fuel mileage. We had the speed, so we'll get them at Barber."

"I think we had the car again to win, but we couldn't because of the mileage," Rockenfeller added. "It's frustrating, but on the other hand, it's good to have a good finish and some points for the championship. I hope next race we can win."

Diaz—who led twice for a total of 24 laps—and Pruett earned their sixth podium result of the season with a third-place performance. The CompUSA duo has also finished inside the top 10 in eight of 10 races, and the result comes on the heels of a 21st-place Daytona Prototype result after a crash in the EMCO Gears Classic. In fact, the damage coupled with the tight turnaround between races forced the team to use the same car that IndyCar champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon and NASCAR racer Casey Mears co-drove to victory in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Defending Daytona Prototype co-champions Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli wound up fourth in the #10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley. It was Angelelli's sixth-consecutive top-four performance and enabled him to maintain fourth place in the Daytona Prototype driver standings with 322 points.

With less than one-tenth of a gallon in their fuel cell, Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney finished fifth in the #99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley. It was their third-straight top-five finish and their fifth-consecutive top-eight performance dating to a second-place run in the Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

In the Rolex Series GT class meanwhile points leaders Andy Lally and Marc Bunting scored their third victory of the season — and more importantly, extended their lead in the standings — with the class win.

Lally inherited the lead from #72 NEC Porsche GT3 driver Wolf Henzler on lap 60 after the #72 machine had to come down pit road for a late splash of fuel. Henzler and co-driver Robin Liddell finished second, and now find themselves eight points in arrears of Bunting and Lally in the GT standings (407-399).

"We won this one on strategy," said Lally. "We got every ounce of fuel in that car. I think this is the first one that I've ever won on fuel mileage. A lot of Rolex races don't come down to that but when it does come down to that, you've got to make sure everything is right and our guys did."

Bunting started the machine from the pole position, but as the opening stint went on, he fell as low as eighth in the running order. The Maryland native rebounded, however, handing over the car to Lally during a green flag pit stop in contention for the win.

"I think everything went our way," Bunting said. "We knew we had a chance to take in one spot but we caught the yellows early. We were having to stretch the fuel load early on. We certainly didn't win the race on speed; we won it on lap times and strategy. I didn't expect to be on top of the podium here but it's definitely a great surprise."

Liddell started alongside Bunting at the green flag, but took the lead in Turn 1, leading throughout his 28-lap opening stint. Like Bunting, Liddell handed the machine over to Henzler during a green flag stop, but while the #65 machine made it on just one stop, the #72 Porsche surrendered its lead to get fuel.

"It was a pretty good fight," said Henzler. "We were pretty equal out there. We had a little problem with fuel conservation, and with a long green flag run, we got caught out. I had an incident during my stint when a car spun in front of me and I had to go off into the grass. As a result, I had a problem with my nose, causing a big understeer."

"Finishing second is a bit disappointing," said Liddell. "We've known all season that the championship will go down to the wire, and it's frustrating because we could've conserved a little more fuel and still won the race. But, the good thing has been the reliability of the car. The Porsche has been great all year. We've made some mistakes to give away a couple of races, but it's nice knowing that it's not the car."

Ian James and Eric Lux finished third in the #74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3, the best finish of the season for 18-year-old Lux. The previous best finish for Lux was seventh, three different times with regular co-driver Charles Espenlaub. James also finished third in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The third Tafel Racing machine, the #73 NEC Porsche GT3 of team owner Jim Tafel and Andrew Davis, finished fourth, followed by the #17 Minestar Solutions/Tim Hortons/SAMAX Porsche GT3 of Canadians Greg Wilkins and Dave Lacey.

One championship contender that did encounter problems was the #64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R of Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards. The duo came into the race just nine points behind Liddell and Henzler, but mechanical problems in the Brumos Porsche 250 relegated the machine to a 16th-place GT finish. The tandem leaves Daytona 26 points in arrears of the #72 duo with 373 markers.


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