Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' magical run continued on Sunday with the team's fourth overall victory in the 49th Rolex 24 At Daytona at Daytona International Speedway.
In the final minutes of the twice-around-the clock classic, a late caution suddenly turned the Rolex 24 At Daytona into a sprint race. The No. 01 Riley-BMW with driver Scott Pruett behind the wheel held off the sister Ganassi Racing car – the No. 02 BMW Riley and driver Scott Dixon – on a final green and white restart to cinch the win.
“It's exciting for our team having a 1-2 finish,” Pruett said. “I think that's how you one-up what you do here. I think that's absolutely amazing and I'm proud of our whole organization.
“The 02 car is great, having a team car in this race you get to bounce things off each other in practice and in testing and really try and make the most out of that opportunity to put two cars up front.”
It was the fourth career overall Rolex 24 victory for Pruett and second for co-driver Memo Rojas while Graham Rahal and Joey Hand earned their first coveted Rolex watches.
Ganassi won three Rolex 24s between 2006-'08 and has earned runner-up finishes the past two years.
"I don't drive the cars, I don't change the tires, I don't work on the engines,” Ganassi said. “There are lots of people, lots of great competitors that it takes to make up a team, and I'm just the guy who gets to stand up there and talk about it.”
The winning No. 01 entry covered 721 laps, 2,566.76 miles, equivalent of a trip from Daytona Beach to Los Angeles. The margin of victory was 2.07sec and there were four cars on the lead lap.
Rounding out the top three was the runner-up No. 02 Ganassi Racing entry with Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and 2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray. Third-place honors went to the No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche-powered Riley and drivers Max Papis, Christian Fittipaldi, JC France, Joao Barbosa and Terry Borcheller.
• The No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3, driven by Andy Lally, NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan, Spencer Pumpelly, Wolf Henzler and Steven Bertheau, overcame a broken clutch to take GT class honors.
“This car was awesome and the gearbox that these guys built was a testament to us beating it up for 17 hours and not using a clutch,” Lally said.
“It was just phenomenal to be a part of TRG and I'm in Victory Lane at Daytona,” Gaughan said. “That's a dream come true.”
Rounding out the podium in the GT class was the No. 48 Miller Barrett Racing Porsche GT3 and drivers Bryce Miller, Tim Sugden, Bryan Sellers and Rob Bell in runner-up honors and Dempsey Racing in third place with actor Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster, Tom Long and Charles Espenlaub.
For Dempsey, it was his first podium in the Rolex 24 and a huge step in both his racing career and the team's progression.
“I think it's important for our development as a team,” Dempsey said. “The sacrifices Joe has done personally and professionally to get us here; and (engineer) Kirt (Wightman), our team, they have worked so hard the last few months with not the kind of funding that other teams have.”
Dempsey got emotional about his finish in his post-race interviews.
“You just think of the waves of emotions,” Dempsey said. “I started racing at the Panoz school a long time ago, and Joe was the head instructor and Charles was the instructor, and from that getting off the couch from watching SPEED on Sunday, to go and follow your dreams and to be here, it's pretty special.”
• Mark Blundell, Zak Brown, Martin Brundle and Mark Patterson achieved a solid fourth-place finish in the United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing entry.
While running in third place, Brundle was tagged from behind at the restart following a caution period in the ninth hour costing around 30secs and slipping to eighth. The 1988 Daytona race winner went on to complete almost a full second stint – the team generally opting for single-driver stints – but was forced to pit prematurely once again after running over a large piece of debris which damaged the nose section necessitating new front bodywork.
Patterson, too, was punted into a spin and later pitted for another new front nose section due to splitter damage, a broken “stay” and damaged front brake cooling duct repairs – a legacy from the Brundle incident. Even after all that, though, Brundle ultimately took the checker fourth, a mere 3.752sec behind the winner after a final full-course caution in the final seven minutes.
“We all put in some pretty amazing stints. We clawed our way into a podium slot but we didn't quite have enough when it was needed," related Brundle. "I made a banzai move at the end but that was more in hope than anything else.
"I think between us we have done a great job. We have 2 ‘retired pros' in Mark and I, plus two Pro-Am drivers up against car lineups featuring four current hotshoes. I'm kind of disappointed but that is typical me of me – I wanted that podium. My goal was a top-10 on the grid and top-five in the race and we achieved both, so I think we covered ourselves with a bit of glory and maybe surprised more than a few people.”
• GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmie Johnson fought through a problem-plagued and frustrating Rolex 24, finishing 12th in the Daytona Prototype class after dealing with race-long brake problems and a hard hit to the No. 99 GAINSCO Riley-Chevy on Saturday night.
Although the final part of the race was much smoother than Saturday's opening half, the gap that resulted from three different trips to the garage in the race's first 10 hours was ultimately too much to overcome. Gurney did move to 12th in the final 45 minutes of the race on Sunday, but that was the only slight bright spot of an otherwise tough day and night of competition.
“We just had chronic brake problems, which required the crew to make a bunch of adjustments and repairs during the race,” Fogarty said. “We did it and got some well-placed points. Our pace was probably the best it's been in several years, so we're pleased about that, but we would have liked to show it a little more.”
Although Gurney (ABOVE RIGHT) ran as high as third in the first driving shift of the race, a brake issue that emerged during Johnson's stint sent the GAINSCO car to the garage for the first time in the race's fourth hour. A second brake repair was also needed later that evening but a bump-and-run incident with Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya before that was the real strain, as the repair job cost the car 20 laps.
“We basically have new parts on the car, and you can't go and do a 24-hour test,” Fogarty said. “You go straight to a 24-hour race with stuff that's not fully tested and things crop up. With the motor change, that's what it kind of boils down to, we have an entirely new motor package this year.”