Grand AM » 29 January 2007
Grand-Am: Rookies revel in Ganassi success.
Chip Ganassi has developed something of a habit of getting newcomers to the Rolex 24 onto the top step of the podium, after taking Juan Montoya and Salvador Duran to victory alongside Scott Pruett just a year after Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon succeeded at Daytona.
Pruett, Montoya and Duran led 468 of 668 laps of the 45th running of the race in the #01 TELMEX/Target Riley-Lexus to claim Ganassi's second straight Rolex 24 victory after Dixon, Wheldon and Casey Mears triumphed in the #02 car last year. Pruett was behind the wheel when the car rolled off the grid in 12th, and sealed the team's flawless drive as he crossed the chequered stripe just 1min 15.842secs ahead of his nearest rival 24 hours later.
The win was a record-breaking one on a number of levels for the Ganassi operation, with Pruett's second overall Rolex 24 victory tying him for first on the Rolex Series win list with 13 victories, alongside the now retired James Weaver, and marked the 2004 Rolex Series champion's seventh 24-hour class win, another all-time record.
“The job that this TELMEX/Target team did today was just outstanding, and the car performed flawlessly," the American veteran reported, "We always hear that this event sports the best group of drivers in all of racing, and it turned out to be one hell of a shootout at the end, with three cars battling for the win. I think it says a lot about our team and this series. What a fantastic feeling.”
Ganassi's Grand-Am programme extended its record tallies with a 14th win and 25th podium, while delivering Lexus its second straight Daytona 24 hour win months after scoring its first manufacturers' title in 2006, despite having two drivers with no experience of the Rolex 24 alongside Pruett.
“For a rookie in this event, I felt really good going in with a team like this behind me and the great drivers I was fortunate enough to have been paired with," F3 graduate Duran admitted, "I think I learned that this race is all about consistency and confidence.
"Scott and Juan played their cards right while, at the same time, giving me the confidence to drive to the best of my ability. I think I was able to make the right moves at the right times, and that ultimately led to this team getting through the race nearly incident free.”
Montoya's success made it two-in-a-row for Texaco/Havoline drivers in the Rolex after Mears, his predecessor in Ganassi's #42 Nextel Cup team, joined Wheldon and Dixon on the 2006 podium. The win also took the former F1 pilot into exalted company, as he joined another Texaco/Havoline favourite, Mario Andretti, as the only other driver to win the Daytona endurance race, the Indianapolis 500, a Champ Car title - all as a rookie with Ganassi - and an F1 grand prix. His next outing will also be a notable first, as he tackles the Daytona 500 in February.
“I thought it was pretty tough overall - especially as Max Angelelli and Darren Manning gave me a run for my money through my last stint, doing everything they could to make my life miserable," the Colombian commented, "I starting thinking about all the things that could go wrong after leading 18-20 hours, and then not winning the race.
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