Grand AM » 27 January 2008
Pruett, Ganassi lead through 18 hours at Daytona.
The 46th Rolex 24 at Daytona moved into its final quarter with a familiar face out front, as Scott Pruett, Juan Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas kept the defending champion #01 Chip Ganassi Racing entry at the head of a still closely-matched field.
The Telmex-backed machine had been towards the front when the race went through half-distance, Montoya only giving up the advantage when he made a scheduled stop just before the twelve-hour mark, but continued to run laps anything up to half-a-second faster than the race-leading #99 GAINSCO Riley of Alex Gurney when he resumed. Running in second place, quickly cut the #99's lead to just over a couple of seconds, but only moved back into P1 when Gurney pitted.
With the reigning series champion resuming in fifth, Montoya's closest challenge came from the #6 Michael Shank Racing car of Burt Frisselle, with Johnny O'Connell - making his debut in the #91 Riley-Matthews 'works' entry - and Penske-Taylor's Kurt Busch as the race moved into its 360th lap. Further back, the recovering SunTrust car - which had had the mystery electrical problem which stranded Michael Valiante at the end of pit-road solved by a deft push of the screen wiper button(!) - was running ninth pending its next scheduled stop, one ahead of the #60 MSR entry, which was mounting its own comeback in the hands of Graham Rahal.
Cars continued to come and go from behind the wall throughout the 13th hour, with Fabrizio Gollin returning the #77 Doran entry to the fray, while Tracy Krohn went the opposite way following a crunching spin - and clash with the #07 Banner Racing Pontiac that had led GT - in the #75 Riley bearing his name. Ed Carpenter also spun, but the #03 Vision machine emerged unscathed.
Despite encountering heavy traffic from time to time, Montoya managed to keep his nose clean and only ceded the lead when making his next pit-stop. That promoted Frisselle and MSR to top spot, but the #6's advantage lasted just four minutes before JPM was able to reclaim P1 when the blue-and-black machine pitted. With O'Connell and Busch also pitting that allowed Gurney to move back into second spot, with Frisselle, Ryan Hunter-Reay (in for O'Connell) and Busch sorting themselves into the top five.
The second Ganassi car, however, had been on the receiving end of a whack from Edwards' Banner Pontiac, having come to a halt to avoid collecting a spun Krohn Riley. The Pontiac was then rear-ended by Krohn, leaving both ends of the #07 damage and the bonnet up across the windscreen. Remarkably, strong work by the Banner crew had Kelly Collins back on track as the hour ended, even if the #07's bid for victory appeared over.
Also in the wars, the GT pace-setting #70 Mazda was reported with broken tail lights, while the #21 Matt Connolly Porsche returned to pit-lane dragging bodywork and #43 Team Sahlen equivalent followed with front-end damage. The #72 Autohaus Pontiac was also a visitor to the garage area after Craig Stanton clipped the wall and left the car with spooky handling that required a couple of trips to correct, while Farnbacher was shorn of one of its cars when Giacomo Petrobelli suffered a blow-out and badly damaged the front of the #89 Porsche.
The rival TRG line-up continued to lead, with the #67, being handled by Bryan Sellers and Romain Dumas, out front from its #66 sister car, with Richard Westbrook and Andy Lally at the wheel, once the #70 pitted to fix its light problem.
Among the DP's the #3 Southard Riley-Lexus was a major casualty after Ted Christopher hit the wall, shredding a tyre in the process and requiring a spell behind the wall before resuming. While the #3 required a second spell of inactivity, however, the #58 Brumos Riley returned to the fray with David Donohue at the wheel hoping that its fuel issues had been cured.
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