In one of the most spectacular finishes in the 45-race history of the Rolex 24, the #01 TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley trio of Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran emerged on top in a three-car battle over the final hours of the 2007 race.
While the #01 team never fell out of the top-three overall in the final 21 hours of the race, the battle came to a head late in the 20th hour with Ryan Dalziel in the #11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley leading Montoya and Max Angelelli in the #10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley in a nose-to-tail fight for the overall lead. Dalziel managed to keep both vaunted road racers behind him, although Montoya and Angelelli did exchange second place a handful of times.
The battle continued for nearly an hour before Dalziel surrendered the lead to Angelelli when he pitted for fuel and tyres. Angelelli led one lap before Montoya claimed the lead for good in turn four with slightly less than two hours and 45 minutes remaining. At the conclusion of that lap - 578 - Angelelli pulled onto pit-lane and Montoya moved out into the lead.
The Colombian got customary stellar service from the TELMEX/Target crew when he pitted two laps later and managed to maintain the lead of the race. He was pressured from behind by both Dalziel and Angelelli for the better part of another hour before both pursuers pitted before him to turn their cars over to co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Patrick Carpentier respectively.
Montoya gave control of the #01 machine, and the race lead, to Pruett with slightly more than 90 minutes remaining and the 2004 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype champion steadily pulled away over the remainder of the race, crossing the stripe 1min 15.842secs ahead of Carpentier to secure the victory. It was the third-closest finish in Rolex 24 history.
It was Pruett's second overall victory and seventh class triumph in the Rolex 24, moving him into sole possession of first place on the all-time Rolex 24 class winners list. He entered the race tied with Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg with six class victories.
“We got three cars going for it on the lead lap with a couple of hours to go with very talented drivers putting on a fantastic show,” the American said, “That's what this is all about. When you get down to the very last stages of the race and be doing that, it says a lot about the series and the teams with the way they prep the cars and race them. This is no small feat getting everything going for this race between the people and the cars and all the preparation. It's just fantastic. I can't say enough for all the participants and everybody that came and saw it.”
For Montoya, the Rolex 24 triumph made him the first driver in history to win a 24-hour race at Daytona, the Indianapolis 500, a Formula One race and a Champ Car or IndyCar championship. The legendary Mario Andretti also owns a sportscar victory in addition to winning at Indy, in F1 and open-wheel championships, but his Daytona sportscar win came in the 1972 six-hour event. It was Montoya's first appearance in the Rolex 24, the Colombian having also won the Indianapolis 500 at his first and only appearance in 2000. He also claimed the 1999 Champ Car World Series title as a rookie. Like Dan Wheldon last year, JPM won his first Grand-AM race with the Ganassi operation, and now heads into the 2007 Nextel Cup campaign on a high.
“It was pretty tough,” Montoya said, “My last stint running with Angelelli and Dalziel, they were going at it really hard. It made my life pretty miserable. It got to a point when I would run behind them, I was third in the group, and I was like 'I'm not going to hop into that'. We led 18 or 20 hours up to that point. I managed to catch up to them. I knew our fuel mileage was better than them. You want to try to get ahead of them but at the same time you don't want to screw up the race. There was a fine line. But it was a good way to start the year with Chip.”