Grand AM » 1 January 1901
Grand-Am: Delays lose #7 chance of greater glory.
While its #11 sister car took more of the plaudits after a spirited run at the front of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, SAMAX's second entry staged its own remarkable race before eventually claiming sixth spot.
The #7 machine's adventure began in qualifying, where an accident left it out of the race until the end of the second session on Friday. A calculated gamble not to run in final qualifying meant that it secured the final place in the Daytona Prototype field, 28th overall, but with a mountain to climb if it was to challenge for honours.
Tomas Enge, however, made a great start and put in a sterling opening stint that had the car up to tenth in just 90 minutes. It was only after the Czech had handed over to IPS stand-out Chris Festa that problems began to frustrate the #7 crew, culminating in the American being punted off track by a GT class Porsche. The incident forced the SAMAX team to change the nose of the car, losing three laps and sliding down to 17th in the process.
The fighting spirit exhibited by both SAMAX entries prevailed, however, and, by early morning, the #7 was back in sixth place. Even when heavy rain hit the Daytona area, Enge remained on it and, as the track dried, was able to push harder still in an attempt to reduce the two-lap gap to the leaders. An hour later, he was up to fourth, just one lap down, before handing the car to Festa.
Once again, the American got the rough end of problems, rejoining the race with a three-lap deficit. Despite making up a place when the #02 Ganassi car went off for good, the #7 was beginning to struggle and, having been handed over to Yasukawa, ended up having to receive further attention, this time fourth gear, before Enge rejoined for the final stint. The Czech managed to make up one place in the last hour, overhauling the #77 Doran for sixth place and edging Memo Gidley for position by just 1.5secs at the chequer.
"You need luck to finish and win this race - if it doesn't go your way, you can't win," reflected chief engineer Travis Lowe, "We lost too many positions to repair the car too many times to hope to win this thing.
"During the middle of the night, while the rain was heavy, both Enge and Festa were running some of the fastest laps, and made up some of the positions we had lost and, overall, we did great considering we gained 22 spots in the race."
That rise through the field at least earned the team the 'most improved' award and the financial bonus that went with it.
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