Veteran Max Angelelli helped Ricky Taylor score his first Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series victory in Monday's Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park. The event also saw Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas have their hopes of winning a record fourth consecutive race dashed in the first turn of the first lap.
Rojas and Pruett finished last in the 26-car field and earned minimum points, allowing second-place finisher Ryan Dalziel to close to within seven points (155-148), after Dalziel entered the event 21 points behind.
Pruett and Rojas had scored three consecutive victories after opening the season by finishing second in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. They were also looking to give owner Chip Ganassi a strong finish to a weekend that saw his cars win the Indianapolis 500 and finish second in the Coca-Cola 600.
A large crowd watched the first appearance of the Daytona Prototypes at the demanding 1.5-mile circuit under sunny skies, while the 90-degree temperatures took their toll on the drivers.
In GT, rookies Adam Christodoulou and John Edwards teamed to score their first victory in the No. 68 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8.
Taylor qualified second in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara owned by his father – veteran Wayne Taylor. He took the lead from pole winner Nic Jonsson on lap 21 and held it throughout his opening shift. Angelelli fell to ninth on lap 99 when he made a fuel stop under the green flag, but passed Rolex 24 winner Joao Barbosa on lap 126 and led the remainder of the race. Taylor and Angelelli completed 174 laps – leading 95 of them – and averaged 94.451mph.
"The heat really affected me today, and I was struggling at the end," said Angelelli, who scored his 15th victory – all with SunTrust Racing. "It was a physical race, and Ricky did a fantastic job. I'm happy to help him win his first race, and now we're ready to fight for the championship."
Rojas, driving the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley, went to the outside of traditional championship rival Jon Fogarty in the sweeping left-hand first turn at the tight 1.5-mile circuit. Rojas ran out of room and went into the dirt, tearing off the front splitter and damaging the front end. Fogarty, co-driving with Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley, served a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. The defending Daytona Prototype champions went on to finish sixth.
Dalziel, who won the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona driving for Action Express Racing, scored his best finish with Starworks Motorsport, joining Mike Forest in the No. 8 BMW Riley. The margin of victory was 4.791sec.
Michael Valiante and Brian Frisselle earned their first podium finish of the season, placing third in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing/CAP & Associates Ford Riley.
Barbosa finished fourth after leading eight laps in the No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley started by Terry Borcheller, their first podium finish since their Rolex 24 victory.
Several teams had strong runs end in disappointment. Nic Jonsson won his first Rolex Series pole in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford Riley co-driven by Tracy Krohn. He led the opening 20 circuits before being caught in GT traffic – a move that allowed Taylor to slip by. The team fell off the lead lap on a green-flag pit stop and finished ninth.
Antonio Garcia and Buddy Rice ran up front in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote. Garcia led 30 laps before turning the car over to Rice, who had contact on a restart that cut a tire, resulting in a green-flag pit stop and an eighth-place finish.
Jordan Taylor – younger brother of the overall winner – won his second consecutive pole in GT qualifying, and led the opening five laps in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8. He was involved in a tight battle with Andy Lally in the No. 07 Banner Racing Corvette and Christodoulou in the No. 68 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 during the early stages of the race, with the lead changing hands five times in the opening 45 laps.
Both Taylor and Lally lost laps due to pitting under the green moments before caution periods. Christodoulou led three times for 34 laps before turning the car over to Edwards, who led the final 87 circuits.
"I think the last 10 minutes of the race were the longest 10 minutes of my life," Edwards said. "I had pressure from behind, so I was just trying to stay ahead and not making any mistakes. This was our very first test day with this new car that the team built over the last month – I think that's all you need to say about SpeedSource and Mazda."
James Gue and Leh Keen finished second, 3.112sec back, giving the No. 41 Dempsey Racing/Team Seattle Mazda RX-8 its second podium finish. GT point leaders Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal finished third in the No. 69 SpeedSource/FXDD Mazda RX-8, giving them their fourth consecutive podium finish and extending their lead to five points over teammates Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito, who finished fourth in the No. 70 SpeedSource/Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 (148-143).
It marked the fourth victory in five races for SpeedSource entries, which has placed all three of its cars at the top of the podium this season.
"Every one of the SpeedSource cars has won a race this year, and that speaks volumes for the effort we put in at the shop," said team owner Tremblay. "The No. 68 was a brand-new car – today was the first time it's been on the track – and it's a credit to the Mazda ladder program to give us two young drivers with this kind of talent."