DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—With the swagger of inevitably, given a decisive power advantage, the No. 01 BMW/Riley of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates captured the 51st Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Juan Pablo Montoya did the honors in the crown jewel of GRAND-AM sports car racing, crossing the finish line of the grueling 24-hour race 21.92 seconds ahead of Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Chevrolet of Wayne Taylor. Defending champion AJ Allmendinger ran third in Michael Shank’s No. 60 Ford.
Filipe Albuquerque won the GT classification, finishing ninth overall with Audi R8 teammates Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke. David Donohue captured first in the new GX division, winning the class in a Porsche Cayman with teammates Shane Lewis, Nelson Canache and Jim Norman.
Montoya’s closing drive made a five-time overall winner of teammate Scott Pruett, who tied Hurley Haywood for the record in that category. Pruett extended his own record to 10 class wins in the Rolex 24, four of those coming in Daytona Prototypes.
Haywood, the race’s grand marshal, was one of the first to congratulate Pruett in Victory Lane.
“It’s just an incredible day all the way around, winning with these guys, winning with Chip, with (sponsor) TELMEX, with BMW,” Pruett said. “And then at the end of it, having gotten to know Hurley real well over the years by racing with him and just as a friend, and to have him there at the end was pretty special, a very special thing.”
Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball teamed with Pruett and Montoya for the victory, which was owner Chip Ganassi’s record fifth in 10 tries. Montoya and Rojas each claimed their third victories in the Rolex 24. Kimball, who races despite being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, recorded his first.
The defending champion No. 60 Ford/Riley found trouble almost immediately. Allmendinger, who took the checkered flag last year, started off in the car, but 40 minutes into the race, he returned to pit road with a broken tie rod in the left front.
Allmendinger lost seven laps while the crew repaired the suspension damage. After regaining three laps under subsequent cautions, the No. 60 again was seven laps down after a fueling issue forced the car back to the garage.
Throughout the night, however, the team rallied, regaining lost laps under a spate of cautions. A caution for debris at 10:20 a.m. put the No. 60 back on the lead lap, and superb drives by Wilson and Ambrose brought the car to the second position, where it was running when Allmendinger took over for the final stint under green at 1:45 p.m.
Two minutes earlier, Montoya had replaced Pruett, in pain from an old ankle injury, as the No. 01 readied for its stretch run. Pruett made the call to take himself out of the car.
“It’s no secret that I’ve gotten pretty beat up over the years, especially in IndyCar,” Pruett said. “I don’t know, for some reason my left ankle was bothering me a lot. It was really painful, and sometimes that happens. I knew I could go out and run a fast pace, but I wasn’t confident that if I had to go head to head, some real hard, close racing, that I’d have enough strength in my ankle to be able to get it done.
“I told (team manager) Timmy (Keane), ‘I don’t want to do this, but for the good of the team, we need to do it because we don’t know how this thing is going to unfold, we don’t know who’s going to be there at the end.’ And I got in and ran a couple stints right there at the end and put us in a solid position. Juan got in and just did a tremendous job.”
Though the stakes for Pruett multiplied the pressure of the situation, Montoya made the most of his BMW power and opened a lead of 26 second before a caution at 2 p.m. for debris at the start/finish line slowed the race.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Montoya acknowledged. “I thought, ‘We have a decent lead, we’re just going to go out there and ride for two and a half hours or whatever is left,’ and then you realize there’s a caution and another caution and another caution…
“We were kind of concerned about the (60) car, what they were going to do with fuel, because they told me they could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap. It was fun.”
Nevertheless, Allmendinger grabbed the lead during the exchange of pit stops, restarted with 70 minutes left and held the top spot for six minutes of scintillating racing before Montoya powered to the outside approaching the exit from the banking and cleared the No. 60 as the cars entered the infield.
Caution for debris at 2:30 p.m.–with one hour, two minutes left in the race–bunched the field again, but Montoya soon passed Angelelli for the lead. Both drivers stopped for fuel in the final six minutes, leaving Montoya with his decisive advantage.
The race was not without controversy. In a general sense, the Ganassi cars had a clear power advantage over their Chevrolet and Ford rivals. In fact, GRAND-AM officials mandated a horsepower restriction for the Chevrolets before the weekend—based in part on dynamometer comparisons–and relaxed it only slightly after Pruett and Dixon spanked the rest of the field in qualifying.
Angelelli said he couldn’t feel the post-qualifying change.
“Did they change?” he asked facetiously after his first stint in the No. 10 Corvette. “No feeling at all. If the change is .000001 millimeter, it is not a change. They need to be released (from the horsepower restriction). Just look at the top speed. It is very simple.”
Ganassi credited aerodynamics, specifically the ability to run his cars with minimum wing, for their dominant speed at the end of the straightaway. After the race, Angelelli scoffed at that explanation.
“Montoya was in his own league,” Angelelli said. “He was ‘A’ class. We were ‘B’ class. … it was like driving with handcuffs.”
Despite holding off Montoya for four laps after a restart with 70 minutes left, Allmendinger echoed those sentiments.
“They had the cars to beat, for sure,” Allmendinger said. “They did their homework, and it’s no secret that with the way testing works, everybody is kind of hiding some stuff and trying to keep it in reserve for the race. Last year we were able to capitalize on that, and we got our turn and won the race.
“You know, it was their turn. They did their homework and they played the game the best. When it’s your year, you’ve got to capitalize on it. We did that last year; they did that this year.”
The fastest car in the field–Ganassi’s No. 02 driven by Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Joey Hand and Jamie McMurray–fell out after sunrise. McMurray’s collision with the pit road wall at 5:47 a.m. cost the team seven laps for repairs.
“It didn’t seem like the pit road speed monitor was working, and I got panicked,” McMurray said. “I was speeding, just reading the dash. When I got to the end of pit road, I was too hot trying to exit the pits on cold tires.
“It’s crazy how slick it is. I just made a mistake. I feel like an idiot, because we have the best cars, and it’s really about making it to the end. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary—I just messed up.”
The No. 02 team regained all but two of the laps lost before Franchitti stopped on the track at 11:48 a.m., causing a caution that gave his teammates the opportunity for a much-needed brake change. Rival owners Shank and Taylor took umbrage at the coincidence.
But Franchitti bristled at the suggestion that he had caused the caution deliberately, believing instead that he still had a chance to win the race.
“We were two laps down, so it was very doable,” Franchitti said. I think, if we got back on the lead lap, we could have created some hassle for the other guys. … It just lost drive. I could go up through all the gears, but it wouldn’t go anywhere. No warning at all.”
Notes: Pruett extended his career Rolex Series victory record to 40. Rojas, his full-time teammate, is second with 26 wins. … The race was run under caution for one hour, 45 minutes Sunday morning because of heavy fog. That’s the second time in three years the Rolex 24 has experienced a significant fog delay. … The event featured a record 74 changes of the overall lead. … The top three finishers all completed 709 laps over the 3.56-mile road course.