Scott Dixon brought the #02 Target Chip Ganassi Lexus Riley to the chequered flag to secure victory in the 44th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona – giving Chip Ganassi his first win in the race.
Dixon shared the car with IRL team-mate Dan Wheldon and Ganassi's NASCAR driver Casey Mears as the three 'ringers' beat the Rolex Series regulars to take victory in the most prestigious race on the calendar.
With Mears behind the wheel – and just under six hours remaining - Patrick Long was forced into and extended stay on pit lane as the Alex Job Racing/Emory Motorsports team changed the half-shaft on the #23 Shred-It/XM Satellite Radio Porsche Crawford and it proved to be the defining moment of the race as Mears took a lead the team would hold until the flag – taking victory by a lap over the #60 Flight Options Lexus Riley of Oswaldo Negri Jr, Mark Patterson and Champ Car World Series team-mates AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson.
The #02 team led a race-high total of 272 laps, and overcame various mechanical issues that dropped them as low as 20th in the overall running order. Lexus Riley fell two laps down to the leaders on three different occasions, but the Ganassi team battled to the front following each setback to score a hard-earned victory.
Mears led the Ganassi squad with 109 laps at the head of the field, and celebrated his first-ever major league race victory. He also became the first full-time active NASCAR driver to earn an overall Rolex 24 at Daytona victory.
“I just can't believe I'm sitting here right now as a winner of this race,” he said. “I honestly didn't think this would happen like this, so I'm very excited to have this one. First off, what a team Scott, Dan and I had behind us. I just can't explain it.
“These Ganassi guys went over the wall and back all night to keep this car running. Without them there's no way we could have accomplished this. I talked to Benny Parsons in Victory Lane and he said to me now that I've been to this place and seen Victory Lane; you're allowed to come back and visit. Hopefully that's exactly what I'll be doing when I come back here in a few weeks in the NEXTEL Cup Series car.”
Wheldon, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL IndyCar Series champion, became the first driver to win the Rolex 24, the IndyCar championship and the Indianapolis 500 in the span of less than one year. The British driver also joined AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Jr as the only drivers to accomplish all three in their careers.
“There are some great names associated with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and some even more impressive ones that go hand in hand with Chip Ganassi Racing,” he said. “This is simply one of the biggest races around, and to be a part of winning this for Team Target and the whole crew is something I've very proud of for sure. This team prides itself on winning the big races, and now I can say I'm a part of delivering one for those for the whole organisation.”