The three main protagonists in this year's Rolex Series each showed their hand in the early going at Daytona, although it was Lexus that held the six-hour advantage over rivals Pontiac and Porsche.
Six-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett led the field into the second quarter of the race, as the #01 Telmex-Target Riley-Lexus maintained the position it had held for much of the previous few hours. The #01, shared by Salvador Duran and Juan Montoya, led a stretch of 91 consecutive laps before giving up the lead to the #58 Porsche-powered Brumos/Red Bull entry during a scheduled pit-stop.
With the #02 Ganassi entry of Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon and Memo Rojas shadowing the #01 for much of the opening five hours, and the #6 Michael Shank Racing shared by AJ Allmendinger, Paul Tracy, Henri Zogaib and Ian James also taking turns in the lead, Lexus-powered cars led much of the opening stint, taking 145 of the first 185 laps in 2007, having also headed the final 168 laps a year ago.
“We had a great start and managed to move up quite a bit in the early going, which was nice," Dixon commented, "The car is performing perfectly right now and it was solid through the first stint and midway through the second. Unfortunately, I locked up the left front tire and flat-spotted it down to the cords. We lost a few seconds but, other than that, it's just been the usual wear and tear of this race.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi wasn't getting carried away, despite seeing his two cars run at the head of the field from the opening hour.
“You know, this is a long race, and I think, to this point, it's about the same as it's been in years past," he said, "But the point is, when you've been in this many races in your life, it's almost like you don't feel anything really. You've done this so many times, you know how racing works and the amount of patience required to be successful.”
Pontiac-powered cars led the 69-entry field to the green flag, and continued to have a strong presence in the top ten after six hours - just not with the car most had been expecting. Sadly, after Alex Gurney had led the first four laps, contact with a stricken GT car left the polesitter to limp around to the pits for extensive repairs, dropping the #99 GAINSCO Riley-Pontiac well down the order.
In its place, however, came a handful of other Pontiac-powered machines, led by the #91 Lowe's-backed entry, which led early on and continued to be a thorn in Ganassi's side until the sixth hour.
"I had a good run," reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said of his stint behind the wheel, "I was trying to keep pace with Montoya - on some laps, I would gain and, on some others, I would lose, but the gap was pretty close. The traffic with all of these cars really keeps you focused, as I am used to running around with here with guys going about the same speed.