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Sigalsport stars take back-to-front win

25 March 2007

In only their eighth Daytona Prototype start together, Team Sigalsport BMW Riley co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Matthew Alhadeff registered their maiden Grand-Am victory in the Grand Prix of Miami – after starting right towards the back of the grid.

With just 11 laps remaining, Auberlen swept to the inside of 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli in the SunTrust Pontiac Riley in Turn Six and emerged with a lead he would hold to the chequered flag, crossing the line with an advantage of a scant 1.759 seconds after 91 laps of racing and having begun the race down in 15th on the grid. What's more, the result marked the first success for BMW since the 2005 season finale in Mexico City.

“First of all, it feels unbelievable,” the two-time Rolex Series GT champion expressed afterwards. “It came earlier than I even expected. I knew we had a learning curve with the car – the team had a gelling curve, where everybody has to come together – but it's all coming together so fast. We've got a good motor programme now and everything is good, so to win this is one of the best wins I've ever had. It was one of the hardest-fought wins I've ever had too.

“As far as the pass on Angelelli goes, on the re-start before that I was much faster than him, but it was like he drove in his mirrors. Everywhere I went, that's where he wound up. I was like, 'I can't go by, so I have to make myself invisible'. If you put a Daytona Prototype right behind another one, they can't see you. I tucked right up behind him to where I knew he couldn't see me, waited for his brake lights to come on, and when he did that I went just a second longer. It was too much for him. For him to do it, we would have had to wreck. I passed him, went out and the car was strong.”

For Alhadeff, who drove the first 21 laps before turning the car over to Auberlen under the day's second of seven full-course cautions, the win signalled his maiden professional race victory in his eighth Daytona Prototype start and 26th overall Rolex Series start in a career that began only two years ago.

“This is one of the greatest days of my entire life,” the 25-year-old enthused. “I'm so happy for the whole team, for my family and for myself. We've been working so hard to do this. We've been there a couple of times and it's gotten taken away from us for whatever reason. Now, we finally did it. It was a well-deserved finish, because we struggled in the beginning with some of the things that happened on the track and a pit-stop that wasn't that great, but everybody just pulled through. Bill Auberlen, man, that guy is unbelievable.”

Angelelli and co-driver Jan Magnussen held on to claim second for their best result of the season to-date, after coming home third in each of the opening two races. Magnussen began from pole position and led the first 21 laps before handing the car over to his Italian team-mate. Interestingly, the No. 10 machine has never won a race in which it has started from pole position.

“Obviously, I'm very happy for the team,” Magnussen said. “It looked for a while there like we were going to win this race, but Bill was very strong at the end and got a run on Max after the re-start. From my point of view, I didn't do that many laps, but I got away cleanly at the start and got a big gap. Everybody else was fighting behind me. I had a clean run. My car today was just great. Then I gave it over to Max and it was a really exciting race until the finish.”

Angelelli led for 15 laps before surrendering the lead to Auberlen. It was the tenth consecutive race in which he and Magnussen have finished inside the top five, and the result enabled them to move to within one point of Daytona Prototype points leader Scott Pruett.

“I enjoyed the race,” Angelelli commented. “It's what Grand-Am racing is all about – you cannot rest for a second or you will get passed. Bill really made a fantastic move; it really surprised me. When I saw him, I couldn't believe it. If I had known he was there, I would have closed the door for sure, as I did before. I knew he was really strong the first two laps after re-starts and I really wasn't. He covered himself behind my car in the middle and I couldn't see him in my mirrors, so he did really well. The race was difficult for everybody. My car behind the other DPs was really difficult, but I enjoyed the whole race.”

Pruett co-drove the Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley to a third-place finish alongside Mexican Memo Rojas, in so doing succeeding in retaining his points advantage by the narrowest of margins. It was Pruett's second rostrum of the campaign following his triumph in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona with co-drivers Salvador Duran and Juan Pablo Montoya, and the maiden podium of Rojas' Rolex Series career.

“I had a run on (leader) Ian (James) on the back straight, and was able to get inside him and had the lead for a second or two,” explained Pruett, “but I just ran out of room and didn't want to get into him. I had to get out of it a little bit and that allowed Max to get by and he brought the 05 car with him.

“It was a scrap out there all race long. That's what Grand-Am racing is all about. We had a strong effort from everyone – Memo did a great job, Lexus did a great job and really the whole Ganassi team was terrific.”

“I'm happy with my first podium,” Rojas added. “The racing was really tough. It seemed like we were always in a battle trying to get to the front. In the end, I think any of the cars that were running up front had a chance depending on traffic. It was really good racing.”

Patrick Carpentier and Milka Duno continued their strong early-season form with fourth place in the CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley, their second such result of the season to accompany a second-place run in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and one that kept the pairing within 13 points of Pruett in the points table.

Floridians Hurley Haywood and JC France rounded out the top five in the Brumos Porsche/Kendall Porsche Riley; Darren Law led 20 laps in the Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar he shared with co-driver David Donohue en route to sixth; Rob Finlay and Michael Valiante came home seventh in their Ford Crawford; Colin Braun and Max Papis in the Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley took eighth; defending Daytona Prototype champion Jörg Bergmeister and 2006 Homestead winner Patrick Long finished ninth in the Ruby Tuesday machine; and Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins rounded out the top ten in their Autosport Lexus Riley. The top nine cars all finished within 10.5 seconds of the race-winner.

In the GT class, meanwhile, Nick Ham and Sylvain Tremblay extended their points lead in the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 by taking their second straight class victory in a nail-biting finish, ahead of Porsche GT3 stars RJ Valentine and Andy Lally who had begun the race all the way back in 16th position.

Tremblay led 16 laps, but had to hold off a hard-charging Lally over the closing stags to secure the victory in the 'hometown' race for his Sunrise-based team, crossing the line a mere 0.103 seconds in front of the defending Rolex Series GT co-champion.

“That was one of the best races I've ever had,” Tremblay enthused afterwards. “I just had tons and tons of fun. I'm very proud of the entire SpeedSource team and all the calls we made. To have won two in a row this early is just awesome. Nick drove a strong first half of the race. Momentum is the best thing.”

Ham started second and led 12 laps during his opening stint before turning the car over to Tremblay. After picking up the first-ever Rolex Series GT victory for Mazda three weeks ago in Mexico City, Ham and Tremblay stretched their lead in the GT driver standings out to 17 points over Porsche GT3 pairing Carlos de Quesada and Jean-Francois Dumoulin.

“Overall, it was a very good race,” Ham said. “Everything went according to plan. I did the first stint and my job was to keep the car clean and stay as close to the front as possible, which we were able to do. We called our pit-stop right. We pitted at the right time so we just needed one stop, and at the end we were able to bring it home. When we did the stop I think Sylvain was in sixth place, and he just gradually kept moving up. It was a great win for Mazda and the RX-8.”

For the third consecutive outing, Valentine and Lally managed to substantially improve on their result from the previous race with a second-place run. The duo opened the year with 17th in the Rolex 24 at Daytona before taking eighth earlier this month in Mexico City.

“We had a really good car and by far the best Porsche in the field, hands down,” Lally stated. “We did a decent job with it. We came up just a little bit short, and that's a little bit disappointing. I wish we had a little more for those guys at the end, but I don't think we could have planned out the race any better than we did.”

Bryce Miller and Dirk Werner bounced back from a cut tyre to complete the class podium in the Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3. The result marked the third successive top-four finish for the squad, which is in its first full Rolex Series season. It was also the debut Rolex Series rostrum for Werner and Miller.

“The last few laps were outstanding,” Werner remarked. “I'm happy personally because I learned how to drive from Wolf Henzler, and to beat him now is really crazy. The car was so good, and the tactics we used were awesome. We fell all the way to the back when Bryce had the cut tyre, so to come all the way back is just awesome. Hopefully we will celebrate tonight because this is mine and Bryce's first podium.”

Fourth-place went to Henzler and Eric Lux in the Tafel Racing Porsche GT3. Lux led five laps midway through the race, while Henzler took over after their pit-stop and ran as high as third before Werner snatched the position away. The final top-five position went to GT pole-sitters Dominik Farnbacher and Leh Keen in their Porsche GT3, the final car on the class lead lap.


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