Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas needed five races to win their first race of the 2009 Grand-Am season, but didn't have to wait long to post victory number two, as they overcame adversity to win Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The defending Daytona Prototype champions dominated the latter half of round six, leading the final 35 laps in the #01 TELMEX Lexus Riley before Pruett held off Ricardo Zonta in a fight to the finish to win by 0.491secs, but the result does not tell the whole story of the race.
Pruett and Rojas overcame three early pit-stops and going a lap down to win after starting from second on the grid. Rojas came into the pits under caution on lap two to satisfy the mandatory pit-stop rule requiring a stop within the first 45 minutes of the race, but the Ganassi team erred by taking on fuel before Grand-Am officials deemed that the race had yet to complete a green flag lap.
The ruling resulted in a stop-and-go penalty, with the team being held in the pits for an additional ten seconds causing Rojas to fall to the back of the field. However, the reigning series co-champion had charged back into the top ten before contact with another prototype while overtaking for position sent the #01 back to the pits for a tyre change.
That dropped the car a lap down and into 15th position but, once again, the resilient Mexican came back through the field and into the top ten before handing off to Pruett under a full-course caution on lap 38. A quick pit-stop put Pruett back on track in seventh place and, from there, the most-decorated sportscar racer in American history quickly moved into the top five, before eventually assuming the lead by anticipating a caution on lap 67 when he saw the #2 Childress Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford stranded near pit entrance and taking over from the Max Angelelli/Burt Frisselle SunTrust Racing entry when it pitted.
Pruett stretched out as much as a three-second lead over second place - and more than ten seconds over third place - before a full-course caution with just over 30 minutes remaining bunched the field once again. However, despite repeated runs by former Toyota F1 driver Zonta, Pruett led the final 45 laps for the team's second consecutive victory.
"My hat's off to Ricardo Zonta," Pruett said after scoring his 22nd Rolex Series victory, "We were both driving like it was qualifying. It was an unbelievable event. It was crazy, because we were trying to race as fast as we can, carving our way through traffic and trying not to hit anyone. It's a good thing we had a fast car that ran well all day long. But it was a real nail-biter at the end."
Zonta and co-driver Nic Jonsson took the #76 Krohn Aviation Ford Lola to its second podium finish of the season after winning last month's race at New Jersey Motorsports Park, while Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, seeking their third consecutive Mid-Ohio victory in the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley, had to settle for third after starting from the pole.
Victory ensured that Pruett and Rojas took sole possession of the Daytona Prototype point lead, now eleven points ahead of Gurney and Fogarty, while SunTrust team-mates Angelelli and Frisselle, who entered the event with a share of the lead, are now third, twelve points behind. Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas placed fourth in the Penske Racing Porsche Riley and are now fourth in the points.
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