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Gearing Up for the Rolex 24, Pt. One; Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing

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On: Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 3:21PM | By: John Welch

Gearing Up for the Rolex 24, Pt. One; Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing

As I write this, 9:18 a.m. January 21st, 2010, there are nine days, six hours, eleven minutes, and thirty seconds until the green flag is waved at the 2010 Grand-Am/Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Ok, twelve minutes and fifteen seconds. Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve . . .

The Grand-Am Series, stalwart road racing series owned by the France family, has been dominated by Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates Racing and Gainsco Racing over the past several seasons. Both of these teams are switching to new engine manufacturers for 2010 (though technically, Gainsco is going from a Pontiac to a Chevrolet V8; I'd be surprised if this isn't anything more then an exercise in 're-badging' . . . ) while Ganassi is moving from Lexus to BMW. Much more intriguing in my opinion.

The 'Shopper dives into the Ganassi squad in this post, with further Rolex 24 previews to come . . .

Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates has always been a team I didn't especially like. I didn't pay attention to Indy cars or CART when they were actually kewl, so my knowledge of the Ganassi squad is limited to NASCAR and Grand-Am. Chip ran Dodges (blech) for years in NASCAR, I didn't especially care for that. In Grand-Am he has been running an even more hated marque, Lexus. That's right, Lexus.

BMW has been supplying engines, built and tuned by Steve Dinan, since the inception of the DP cars in 2003. Being utilized by mostly small, underfunded teams, the double over-head cam Bimmer has had some good showings in its time, scoring several top fives and a win at Laguna Seca with the Samax team in 2008. Rum Bum Racing has also shown well with BMW power, but chassis issues have kept them from race wins.

Welp, lets go over Ganassi's Grand-Am record, shall we? 2004, 2006, and 2008 series champs. 2 Daytona 24 victories. 2009 saw the team capture two wins, four poles, nine top-fives, 13 top-10 finishes, and 452 laps led. Impressive, to say the least; Grand-Am has one of the most tightly confined rule books in racing. Dinan and BMW are stepping into a ready-made championship by powering Ganassi's cars. Ganassi fields Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas as full-time drivers, but also extends race-seats to some of his Indy Car and NASCAR drivers for Endurance events.

Jamie McMurray is one such driver, currently reacquainting himself with the Daytona Prototype: "Those cars (Daytona Prototypes) are so much fun to drive. It took me the whole first day just to get used to the cockpit of the car. It's so much different. The steering wheel has what looked like 500 buttons on it, but it's only four or five. And the way the tach works and everything, it took me a while to get used to

all of that, and where all the switches are in the car, and just get used to the mirrors and everything that's different about that.

"But the cars drove pretty good. Like I say, they're a lot of fun to drive around that track, and I really enjoy it. So we had what I thought was a pretty good test. For me it was good to get back in the car and just get some seat time and get comfortable before getting back down there for the race."

Scott Pruett was asked why Ganassi switched from Lexus to BMW: "Well, the biggest reason was that our TMS Team, Toyota Motor Corporation or TMC, decided they weren't going to continue on with the Lexus brand in the Grand Am Rolex Series. And that gave us the opportunity to look around and pick and choose what we felt was going to be our best engine moving forward with the opportunity with that manufacturer.

"All said and done with, Steve (Dinan) and his group and BMW looked like a perfect fit. And the guys made -- we made the decision actually quite late. In a couple of weeks we did the changeover from the Lexus to the BMW engine, probably late November, into the first of December, and then came for that test the first week of December.

"So we've been extremely pleased so far. The drivability is incredible from what we've had. The durability and reliability has shown to be terrific, and we're looking forward to the 24 here in a couple of weeks."

The BMW powerplant is based on the N62 5.0 liter production V8. Dinan takes the motor and massages the hell out of it, to the tune of an even 500 bhp. Freer revving than most of the other V8 used in Grand-Am, the Bimmer has been considered a hidden gem for some time. Nestled under the deck-lid of Ganassi cars, it should become the engine to have in 2010.

Don't know who Scott Pruett is? This video should help you out from under your rock . . .

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