Despite contending for victory until the closing moments of the 45th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the SAMAX team insists that it is happy with what its achieved with its small two-car effort in the Grand-Am season-opener.
The team's lead car, crewed by Patrick Carpentier, Milka Duno, Darren Manning and Ryan Dalziel, raced the #01 Chip Ganassi entry almost to the flag, having rallied from three laps at one point. Before sun up, it was in position to challenge for the lead, and only lost out on what would have been a surprise victory by just over a minute after 24 hours of racing.
To make the event all the sweeter for team owner Peter Baron, the sister #7 entry - with Tomas Enge, Chris Festa, Roger Yasukawa, Christian Montanari and Kris Szekeres sharing driving duties - came from last spot on the Daytona Prototype starting grid to claim sixth overall, bouncing back from a qualifying accident to claim the 'most improved position' award by climbing 22 places by the chequered flag..
"I'm really proud of the team, the drivers and everybody involved with both cars," Baron said, "The CITGO car ran perfect and there was only a minor mechanical gear problem on the #7 SAMAX car. No other team with multiple DP cars came close to what we have achieved over the last 24 hours."
Having started from fifth place, the #11 CITGO/SAMAX car finally found itself in the heat of the battle for first place as conditions at Daytona veered between wet and dry. Just as the sun was about to rise, the heavens opened, soaking the track and causing confusion. Carpentier and Manning led 24 of the next 35 laps, albeit mostly under caution, before the Briton engaged in a battle for the lead with Salvador Duran and Juan Montoya in the #01. While the Colombian opted for wets on a drying tack - and subsequently had to stop again for slicks - Manning changed to slick tyres first time around and retook the lead when his rival stopped a second time.
Both cars came back to the pits on lap 541, with Dalziel taking over from Manning while Montoya only took fuel and tires. The Ganassi car harried Dalziel, their battle allowing the recovering #10 SunTrust entry to join the fray, but the Scot held firm until handing on to Carpentier after a double-stint.
"This was a phenomenal race," Dalziel said, having resisted pressure for 35 laps,. "There was a lot of pressure put on me by my hero, Juan Pablo, but I blocked it out."
Carpentier kept the CITGO-backed car in the hunt during his stint, although the team opted to use a routine stop with an hour to go to check for damage after contact with a GT class Corvette. Happy that the red-and-white machine was intact, the team sent it back out, albeit now in third place and with the slightly early final stop requiring Carpentier to conserve fuel in order to make the finish without stopping again.
"It's a bit disappointing that I made contact with a GT car while trying to pass him near the end of the race," the Canadian admitted, "That forced me to pit earlier and then I could not mount a charge on the race leader because I had to save fuel. Up to that point, however, we had been very lucky, and this is SAMAX's best-ever result at the Daytona 24 Hours. Every driver on the team did well while they were on track.- it was a team effort and it's a great way to start the season."