Bergmeister retakes lead with Glen win
4 June 2006
In a race featuring 20 lead changes among nine cars and twelve drivers, Jorg Bergmeister reclaimed the points lead in Grand-Am's Rolex Series with victory in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen.
When erstwhile leader Alex Gurney made his final pit-stop with 21 laps remaining, Bergmeister took the lead in the #76 Krohn Racing Riley-Ford he was controversially sharing with road race veteran Boris Said. The German maintained the lead through two late full-course caution periods and pulled away on both restarts to win by 3.495secs over Gurney's #99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing entry.
Bergmeister's triumph allowed him to reclaim a slim advantage in the Daytona Prototype driver standings, now heading #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing co-drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz by four points. It was Bergmeister's first overall Rolex Series win since last September's Phoenix victory.
"It was definitely exciting," he admitted, "Our team did an awesome job. After the trouble we had at the beginning of practice, where my usual team-mate couldn't compete, Boris did an awesome job with his stint in the middle of the race under difficult conditions. It was just awesome today."
Said, who served as a replacement for 17-year old Colin Braun, duly earned his first overall Rolex Series win in only his fourth Daytona Prototype start.
"I pretty much got a gift by being on the team," he remarked, "They called me Tuesday when I was testing my Nextel Cup car in Atlanta and asked if could come stand by just in case something happened. Jorg probably drove about four hours - I just drove about an hour-and-a-half in the middle - and he gave me a win, so I feel pretty happy."
Although post-race technical inspection revealed that the race-winning #76 Riley was too low, the result remains unchanged, with both team and drivers keeping the points earned at the end of a difficult weekend. The team, however, was fined $2000, which will be donated to Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Florida.
Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty claimed their second runners-up result in the last three races, with Fogarty leading the most laps of anyone during a topsy-turvy event. The pairing rallied after falling a lap down following contact between Gurney and Michael Valiante's #5 Finlay Motorsports Crawford on the opening lap. The damage forced Gurney onto pit-lane for a new nose, but the team was leading by lap 57 and, at one point in the final two hours, headed the field by more than 15 seconds.
"It's really a shame, as we were feeling like we could win this race," Gurney said, "What we knew, and what we were doing, with the tyres really helped our pace. It was just unfortunate that we got into some contact, and damaged the exhaust a little bit. I think it hurt us a little bit on top speed, but Jon was incredible in the wet - I wish we could have gotten the win for him."
As well as changing the nose and suffering minor exhaust damage, the #99 car also incurred a stop-and-go penalty for what the officials deemed 'avoidable contact'.
"It happens, it's racing," Fogarty admitted, "It was kind of back and forth but, once the rain came, we had something. We were able to put it back up to the front. We were a little out of sequence on our pit strategy, but we were still able to keep the car up front. As the track dried out at the end, we weren't really sure about our fuel window and going to slicks, but it was a good run, all in all, and we were just a little short this weekend."
Max Angelelli took the #10 SunTrust Riley-Pontiac to third place alongside Wayne Taylor and Ryan Briscoe, the Australian earning a maiden podium visit in only his second DP appearance.
Oswaldo Negri Jr, who led one lap in the race, and Mark Patterson came home fourth in the #60 Flight Options-sponsored Michael Shank Racing entry to earn the squad's best result since finishing second in January's Rolex 24, while Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger completed the top five in the #4 Boss Snowplow Crawford-Pontiac.
Christian Fittipaldi and Hoover Orsi each led 13 laps in the #39 Cheever Racing entry, with Fittipaldi inheriting the lead on lap 13 when Angelelli made his first stop, and Orsi, making his Rolex Series debut with team boss Eddie Cheever racing IRL at the same circuit this weekend, doing likewise on lap 59. Fittipaldi also led three laps late in the race when then leaders Fogarty and Bergmeister made their final stops, but a late incident relegated the duo to a 13th-place result.
Erstwhile title contender Mike Rockenfeller led two laps in the #23 Ruby Tuesday Crawford, but the team again suffered misfortune when co-driver Patrick Long was caught up in an incident with the #39 machine late on. The incident cost the AJR-run entry several positions as it also attracted an 'avoidable' contact penalty, dropping Long and Rockenfeller to an eventual 15th.
Alex Figge, fresh off his first-ever Rolex Series podium in last month's GAINSCO Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway, also spent time lead in the #89 Pacific Coast Riley, before partnering co-driver Ryan Dalziel to a tenth place. Other lap leaders included Valiante, en route to twelfth, and Mark Goossens, who led five tours as he partnered Milka Duno and Stefan Johansson to eleventh spot in the #11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Riley.
Al Unser Jr, making his DP debut, joined brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle in charging from 22nd place on the grid to ninth at the flag to earn the #8 Synergy Racing Doran-Porsche SunTrust Improve Your Position honours.
The GT class was claimed, for the second time this season, by the #72 NEC Porsche GT3 run by Tafel Racing for Robin Liddell and Wolf Henzler. The victory closed the gap in the championship chase between the European duo and the TRG Pontiac crews at the head of the points, as Liddell quickly passed polesitter and points leader Marc Bunting on the first lap. The Scot built a healthy lead throughout his opening stint, handing over to Henzler during a green flag run on lap 61.
"I must say the slick tyres performed very well," Liddell said, "In the end, in the damp, you could stay on slicks - we drove the whole race on slicks. We did consider going to wets a couple of times but, the way the weather was moving in, it was clear that it was raining here but dry on the back. Then, when it was raining on the back, it was clear on the pit straight and the Esses.
"We came into this race and we made a deliberate effort to set the car up in such a way that it would handle a better situation for the wet conditions. In the end, this played very well. It was a good strategy all around."
During the handover between Liddell and Henzler, the #36 Ajilon Consulting Porsche of Randy Pobst inherited the lead and, just three laps later, the full-course caution forced the class field a lap down to the new leader. However, a later caution period brought the pack back within striking distance, and Henzler passed the #36 machine shortly after the restart. Neither he or Liddell would relinquish the lead, and the duo eventually won by a one-lap margin, bringing the duo within ten points of Bunting and Andy Lally, who finished fourth.
"For sure, it was a very hard race, especially under these conditions," Henzler admitted, "The team did a very good job, and we had a pretty good set-up. Also, our pit-stops were very good, on time, and she was perfect today. This was the key to win the race."
Pobst and co-driver Ian Baas wound up second in the #36 machine for the duo's best finish since their class victory in the season-opening Rolex 24, and claimed the Improve Your Position award after coming from 13th on the class grid.
"The inclement weather was good for us," Pobst admitted, "We had a great car in the wet conditions, and strategy was an important part. The race was entertaining - fascinating, right up my alley. Strategy is so important in Rolex GT, because we're not the overall class. That makes it really satisfying. It feels like a win."
Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins finished third in the #64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R, their seventh-straight top-four class finish. However, Edwards and team-mate Lally were fourth and fifth respectively starting the final lap, but third placed David Murry hit a puddle that allowed both Pontiacs to pass the #80 Shoes for Crews/Synergy Racing Porsche GT3.