Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett strolled to a dominant victory in Saturday's Porsche 250 before an estimated crowd of 25,000 at Barber Motorsports Park, while problems hit two of their traditional rivals in the battle for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Daytona Prototype championship.
Pruett took the checkered flag 6.870 seconds ahead of Oswaldo Negri, giving the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley its second consecutive victory. In the GT category, Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato scored their second consecutive win in the No. 69 SpeedSource FXDD Mazda RX-8, on a day when Mazdas swept the podium.
The Ganassi team lost its regular tire changer when Trevor Montgomery twisted his knee prior to the race. Blair Julian – who changes tires for Scott Dixon on Ganassi's IndyCar Series team – stepped in for the race. "We were really fortunate to be running the same weekend as the IndyCar Series, because our IRL team was able to jump in and help us out," Pruett said. "It also means a lot of great racing for the fans."
Negri finished second in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Crown Royal XR Ford Riley started by John Pew. Ryan Dalziel – part of the winning lineup in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona – finished third with Mike Forest in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport BMW Riley. Forest led six laps early in the race.
After three of the 12 races, Pruett and Rojas lead Dalziel by 11 points (102-91).
A major development occurred at the 30-minute mark when the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley went up in smoke. Starting driver Jon Fogarty was running third prior to the opening caution period, with the car going out moments after the restart. The team that won both the Porsche 250 and Daytona Prototype championship in 2007 and 2009 retired from the race before Alex Gurney even got behind the wheel. It marked the first retirement at a sprint race for the team since this same venue in 2008, when the team lost the clutch while leading.
Also experiencing problems was the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara that started on the pole with Ricky Taylor at the wheel. Taylor led the opening 15 laps before turning the car over to Max Angelelli, who had contact with another car, leading to an extended pit stop.
Memo Gidley and Dion von Moltke finished fourth in the No. 77 Doran Racing McDonald's Ford Dallara, followed by David Donohue and Darren Law in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley. The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote ran in the top five throughout the early portion of the race before Antonio Garcia cut a tire and spun. Buddy Rice took over and went on to finish sixth. In eighth was Mark Wilkins who led 16 laps in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley which he shares with Burt Frisselle.
Pruett and Rojas competed 108 laps on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn circuit in the two-hour, 45-minute event. The race was slowed three times for 12 laps under caution, but there were no major incidents.
SpeedSource recorded its third consecutive victory in the Rolex Series GT class. Segal and Assentato have now won four of the last seven races dating back to last season. Jordan Taylor and Todd Lamb took second in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8, followed by Rolex 24 At Daytona class winners Sylvain Tremblay and pole-winner Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Syntec Mazda.
"The racing was pretty intense among the GT cars when I got in, so I kind of bowed out of that – I wasn't interested in rubbing fenders that early in the race," said Segal, who led 35 laps, including the final 32. "We had a fantastic pit stop near the end that got us the lead. It wasn't easy, because I knew Jordan and Sylvain were coming, so I pushed all the way to the end."
Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis placed fourth in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro, followed by Adam Christodoulou and John Edwards in the No. 68 SpeedSource Mazda. But the car which had been in the best position to break the Mazda domination was the No. 07 Banner Racing Corvette. However, on-course contact with a Daytona Prototype led to a long pit stop and a 14th-place finish.
Racer/actor Patrick Dempsey did a double-stint at the start before turning the No. 40 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 over to Joe Foster, who finished 10th.
"We got caught when the yellow came out right after our pit stop, that put us a lap down," Dempsey said. "I felt good out there and I was able to keep up, time-wise, with the leaders. It was great to see so many people turn out for a Grand-Am event here this weekend. Everybody at Barber did a great job putting on the event and they had a great crowd."
The Rolex Series will next visit Virginia International Raceway in Danville for Round 4, the Bosch Engineering 250 on April 24.