Pruett, Rojas sizzle on hot day at Mid-Ohio
Racing in sizzling heat before a record Grand-Am crowd at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was fitting the hottest team in the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 came home the winners. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas combined to win Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank, giving them five victories in seven races to extend their Daytona Prototype point lead.
Rojas started from the pole in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley and led twice for 26 laps in the early going, while Pruett paced the final 38 of 107 circuits in the two-hour, 45-minute race. The Chip Ganassi Racing duo also increased their lead in the Daytona Prototype championship to 32 points with five races remaining.
Differing pit strategies saw Pruett back in seventh early in his shift.
"Because of the different and interesting strategies everybody was running, we fell back and I had to work my way through traffic," Pruett said. "I worked everything on the car really hard. I took some crazy lines doing some off-the-cuff things, and it worked. It got us to the front. But, with about 10 laps to go, I was hanging on by a thread. The heat today was brutal, but we knew that coming into this race. The heat inside the car was incredible."
Ozz Negri and John Pew were second in the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley, 2.991sec behind, holding off third-place finishers Mark Wilkins and Burt Frisselle in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley at the finish.
"It was hot, but we live with it," Negri said. "We live in Miami and John and I train every day in muggy weather."
Wilkins worked his way to the podium during the closing laps, catching Michael Valiante with two laps remaining to spoil a Cinderella story for Michael Shank Racing. Valiante and Brian Frisselle finished fourth in the No. 6 Pit Stop at Norris Lake Ford/Dallara in the first race in that car after the Columbus-based team's Riley was destroyed in a fire at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Wilkins and Burt Frisselle leapfrogged from fourth to second in the championship (225-193), while Ryan Dalziel fell to third with 190 points after finishing 13th in the No. 8 Corsa Car Care BMW/Riley.
Starworks had both of its cars take turns in the lead. Mike Forest led eight circuits in the No. 8 entry, while Nelson Philippe paced 18 laps midway through the race in the No. 7 FlexBox BMW/Riley started by Bill Lester. Buddy Rice led three laps in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche/Coyote, while Valiante paced 14 circuits in the No. 6 Ford/Dallara.
Rice finished fifth co-driving with Antonio Garcia, one race after they gave the team its first podium finish in the Daytona Prototype ranks at Watkins Glen.
Joey Hand and Bill Auberlen combined to give the BMW M6 its first victory in the production-based GT class, driving the No. 94 entry for Turner Motorsport after missing the Watkins Glen event due to a practice crash. It marked the first time in Rolex Series history that BMW won both classes in the same event and first time a BMW won in GT since 2005.
Hand followed Pruett to get past John Edwards to take the GT lead, and then paced the final 17 circuits. Edwards finished second – .908sec behind – in the No. 68 MazdaSpeed Motorsports Development Mazda RX-8. GT polesitter Jordan Taylor and Jade Buford took third in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8.
Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal placed fourth in the No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8 to extend their lead in the GT championship to 10 points over SpeedSource teammate Sylvain Tremblay (204-194). Tremblay and co-driver Jonathan Bomarito entered the event one point out of the lead, but the No. 70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 finished 12th when the Corvette of Eric Lux spun into the path of Tremblay 30 minutes into the event after contact with Auberlen.
Both Paul Edwards and Scott Russell took turns in the lead driving the No. 07 Mobil 1/Airjax.com Corvette, although a green-flag stop for fuel late in the race resulted in a seventh-place finish after the pair led for 32 laps.
The race was slowed six times with 24 laps under caution, primarily for cars stranded in gravel traps. Pruett and Rojas averaged 87.433mph.
Mid-Ohio event director Mary Wier was pleased with the spectator turnout.
"The crowd for our opening race was everything we could ask for and more," Wier said. "The grandstands and viewing mounds were packed throughout the day and pit lane was full during both grid walks. It was even tough to see the grass in the infield with the amount of vehicles that showed up for our car corrals. The competition on the track and fan activities throughout the facility really helped bring fans through the gates."
The next Rolex Series race will be the Brumos Porsche 250 on July 3 at Daytona International Speedway.