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Pruett, Diaz keep title hopes alive

10 October 2005


Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz kept their slim Rolex Sports Car Series title hopes alive with a third win of the season in the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Lexus at Sunday's VIR 400 at Virginia International Raceway.

Pruett took over from Diaz – who led the race and survived an off-course spin in his opening stint – on lap 31 of the 74-lap race and went on to pass the #77 Crown Royal Doran-Ford of Matteo Bobbi for the lead on lap 63.

“I can't tell you how happy I am with this result today,” Diaz said, “We have a championship battle heading into the season finale, and that's all I could have hoped for.

"It's great for CompUSA, Telmex and our sponsors to be a part of the Mexico City race, and having a shot at the championship will bring that much more excitement to the race. You can expect about half a million people for the weekend, so be prepared for a great show if you've never seen a race in my country.”

Diaz, for 18 laps, and Pruett, for twelve more, kept the #01 car out in front for a race-high 30 laps and, with the points-leading SunTrust Racing entry finishing only fourth, will go the season finale in Mexico City with a chance of snatching the title.

"The CompUSA car was just really awesome today,” Pruett reported, “I had great pit-stops from my guys, and that's what got it done for us.

"We were able to pick our spots on the track and make our moves in a very calculating fashion. We felt we had all of our bases covered coming into the race, and it paid off this afternoon. Luis did a fabulous job again, and I can't wait to get to Mexico City to what I think will be a great event for the Rolex Sports Car Series.”

Pruett crossed the finish line 2.181secs ahead of the #2 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Crawford-Pontiac of Andy Wallace and Milka Duno, while Bobbi and team-mate Fabrizio Gollin eventually finished third.

“I had to pass a lot of cars today, and the # 01 car was the only one between me and first place,” Wallace sighed, “Scott knew that, and I knew that, but he was really pedalling there at the end.

"It's a bit disappointing, but it was a good finish for us, and Milka did a fantastic job during the first part of the race. The conditions were difficult, and it would have been easy to wreck, but she didn't and turned the car to me in good shape. I'd like to congratulate everyone who raced around me today. It was very clean, but very competitive in some tough conditions.”

The second-place finish was the first podium appearance for the CITGO duo since their victory at Mont-Tremblant in May, and Duno was particularly pleased to be back among the silverware.

”I started the race in seventh due to our team's position in the team point standings, which was great,” the Venezuelan said, “I was able to keep the car on the lead lap and hand it off to Andy in great position. Andy then led the charge and fought very hard for our second place finish. This is a really good win for us and CITGO and very special as well for the Howard-Boss Motorsports team.”

Championship leaders Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor came up just short of clinching the Daytona Prototype driver and team championships, but should easily clinch both crowns in next month's season-ending event at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. The pair just need to start the race and have each driver complete a single green flag lap. Although they conceded points to rivals Pruett and Diaz in the VIR 400, Angelelli and Taylor have a 32-point advantage, with a maximum of 35 available at the finale.

While SunTrust will have to wait a little bit longer to wrap up the championships, their success this season, in part, allowed Pontiac to clinch the DP engine manufacturer title at VIR, with the #2 team's runner-up finish cementing the title. With ten wins in 13 races so far this season, the marque wrapped up the title for the second-straight year, and now holds a strong 52-point margin over closest rival Lexus.

Riley Technologies also wrapped up its second-consecutive constructors' championship with its tenth win of the season. The company's 446-point total is now an out-of-reach 63 ahead of Crawford.

After the grid was set by championship position because of the persistent rain that plagued VIR all weekend, pole-sitter Taylor led the race's opening laps before Diaz muscled past on lap eleven. In addition to both winning drivers, Taylor and Bobbi, Krohn/TRG's Nic Jonsson added a fifth name to the list of race leaders, after pacing the field for 17 laps at the mid-point. Seven caution periods slowed the race for 22 of its 74 laps.

The winner's Chip Ganassi team-mates, Cort Wagner and Stefan Johansson, finished fifth in the #02 New Century Riley-Lexus, and were among ten race cars that finished on the lead lap, including the top-two finishers in the GT class.

Despite starting behind the field after a paperwork error, Tom Milner and Bill Auberlen powered the #21 Team PTG BMW M3 to its third victory of the season, edging the #16 sister car of Joey Hand and Justin Marks by less than one second.

Milner started the car 21st in class, and steadily picked off positions throughout his stint, before handing the controls to Auberlen. The veteran then led the GT field for most of his shift, as he and Hand finished on the lead lap, and ninth and tenth overall.

“It was the way it should be – nice and easy,” Auberlen said, “It's nice to have your team-mate give it to you right out front, and then have your team have such great pit strategy that keeps you up front all day long and actually get a lap up on the whole field. We had the speed out there, and Tom Milner did a great job.”

Marks – who won with Auberlen at VIR last season – started the #16 BMW just behind the #21 car on the grid and, like Milner, steadily gained positions during his stint.

“It was a pretty good day for us, but it may be too little too late,” he said of his championship chances, “It was a good effort by the team all weekend. I would have liked to come back and repeat at VIR, but there is always next year.”

“We are excited to be still in the championship hunt, that's what we race for all season long,” Hand added, “Justin did a stellar job bringing the car up the field after we didn't get to qualify, and the team did an awesome job on pit-stops. You can't say enough about BMW Team PTG. We had a great day, and now we just go to Mexico City and show off there.”

With a third-place finish, the #65 TRG Pontiac pairing of Andy Lally and Marc Bunting moved to the top of the GT driver standings. The duo came into VIR five points behind Synergy Racing's Porsche driver Craig Stanton, but a sixth podium of the season – coupled with Stanton's seventh-place run with David Murry – was enough to hand Lally and Bunting a one-point lead over Stanton heading into next month's season finale.


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