27 August 2006
Pruett, Diaz tie record with fifth win.
Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz kept their Grand-Am Rolex Series title hopes alive with victory in the Sonoma 250 at Infineon Raceway on Saturday, the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing pair also tying a record for the number of victories in a single season.
It is testament to the sort of form and fortune the Ganassi crew has enjoyed this season to realise that, despite taking five race wins, it remains an outsider for the Daytona Prototype crown. Victory at Infineon, coupled with a ninth-place finish for erstwhile points leader Jorg Bergmeister and co-driver Nic Jonsson, has moved Diaz and Pruett to within 19 points of the German heading to the season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller Motorsports Park while, in the team standings, the #01 machine has moved to the top of the table, albeit with a slim, four-point lead over the #10 SunTrust Riley-Pontiac.
Californian resident Pruett took control of the #01 during a lap 22 caution and charged to the front from 15th place, eventually inheriting the lead on under green flag pit-stops on lap 74. Although the car was forced back down pit-road late on for a splash of fuel, the Ganassi crew made quick work of the stop, sending Pruett out just ahead of Andy Wallace's #4 Boss Snowplow Crawford-Pontiac, and he held off the Englishman to score a popular victory.
The 'splash and dash' hadn't been the only concern faced by the #01 crew, as Diaz survived an early race incident when Tracy Krohn's #75 Riley-Ford dove to the inside of turn seven, sending both machines spinning. Diaz recovered and turned the car over to Pruett during the subsequent full-course caution, allowing his team-mate to begin the fightback that eventually led to victory.
"It was a very hard stint for me," Diaz admitted later, "We got hit from behind and had to come back from that, but this team is the best in the world, and Scott is the best team-mate I could ask for. Everyone on this did a great job the whole day and this is a great win."
The victory tied the record set by defending Daytona Prototype champions Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor last season, and also marked the twelfth victory of Pruett's Rolex Series career, tying him with Wallace's co-driver, Butch Leitzinger, for second-most of all-time. The victory also secured another manufacturers' title for Riley, which can no longer be caught by Crawford.
"We got put behind a little bit early on in the race," Pruett confirmed, "but we dug deep to pull a strategy that would give us the best chance to win, and the guys did a great job on the pit-stop, sending me out there in front. It feels great to get this win in front of the home crowd - there's nothing like winning on your home court. All these things together make this sweet."
Leitzinger and Wallace earned the best result of the season for the Howard-Boss Motorsports team, improving on their previous best of fourth from both Mexico City and Long Beach.
"It's about time," Leitzinger smiled, "The start of the race was great. There was a train of about six or seven cars running nose-to-tail but, on almost one lap, three of the cars had problems, which sent us closer to the front with nothing I did. The crew did a great pit-stop and put us out ahead of the #10 car. Andy just drove the wheels off of it and it was very exciting to watch."
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