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Grand-Am Post-VIR Update

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On: Thu, Apr 29, 2010 at 3:31PM | By: John Welch


Grand-Am Post-VIR Update

The Grand American Road Racing Series started the season off with a tremendously entertaining Rolex 24 at Daytona. A brand new team, Action Express, won the race. Utilizing a passenger SUV-derived engine, and a cast-off Riley chassis from Brumos Porsche, Action Express fought off the might of the Chip Ganassi BMW Rileys all night and into the next morning. After twenty four trips around the dial, Action Express was on top of the podium, and a spectacular season was underway.

The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge is the support/feeder series for Grand Am. Think of it as GP2 for American sports car racing. They raced in Daytona and at every Grand Am date since. The series is comprised of road-going GT machinery, divided into two classes, Gran Turismo (redundant anyone?) and Street Tuner. GT and ST from here on.

The last race weekend, at Virginia International Raceway (or VIR) featured heart stopping excitement around every corner. The Rolex Series is covered in this post, Continental Challenge in Part Two . . .

 


Virginia International Raceway is a storied track with a ton of history. Opened in 1957, VIR is one of our country's oldest permanent road courses. The Old Oak Tree located in the bend of turn 12 is famous worldwide. The course is exactly as it was in 1957, save for some widening and added run-off areas. It can be configured in a myriad of ways, featuring one or two cross-overs and up to 4 miles of racing surface. Grand Am uses the original configuration of the North section, measuring 3.27 miles. Those who get sea-sick need not apply; there is up to 130 feet of fast elevation change throughout the race course.

Rolex Series: Coming into the Bosch Engineering 250 at VIR, the Telmex/Ganassi Riley BMW of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas carried a tentative lead. Certainly not blowing away their competition, the Ganassi Powerhouse was still in a familiar and comfortable position. This trend held true through qualifying, as Memo Rojas took the pole for last Saturday's race. The Blue and White BMW wasn't perfect however; Rojas spun out in the last minute of the qualifying session.

Leading all but nine of the 84 laps (this was timed race), the # 01 was in more trouble than the statistics might show. Tangling with a GT car in the final half-hour, Pruett brought out the second caution of the race on lap 73 when his rear wing collapsed. After pitting and having the wing reattached, Pruett returned to the circuit, and the race resumed on lap 77. For about five seconds.

In a hail of carbon fender pieces and Virginia grass, several Daytona Prototypes came together on the lap 77 restart. The Gainsco Chevrolet, Spirit of Daytona Porsche, and Action Express Porsche all put themselves out of the race, establishing confidence in the Ganassi pits. It looked like the Telmex BMW would extend its points lead with a victory at the end of a five-lap shoot out. The AIM Autosport #61 Riley/Ford of Brian Frissell had a different vision of the podium dynamic, and he made sure the Ganassi boys knew all about it. Hounding the 01 mercilessly through the final laps, Frissell nearly pulled out an upset, finishing the race two-tenths of a second behind Pruett's BMW.

"The only advantage we (the Ganassi cars) had was straight-line speed, so I knew if I could get off the turns well, I'd be very difficult to pass—because the straightaways are the best place to pass here," Pruett said after the thrilling finish. "It was sideways everywhere, because we lost a lot of downforce." The Ganassi Rileys were obviously trimmed (wings sitting level for less drag, more straightline speed) way out for this race.

After capturing the pole, Rojas started the race and turned a blistering 22 laps and accumulated his mandatory 45 minutes before handing the car over to Pruett. A driver cannot score points in a Grand Am race if he isn't in the car at least 45 minutes. "The balance of the car changed from qualifying to the race and the car became pretty loose," Rojas said. "It made it more difficult to drive, but it was still fast. In the end, that's all that matters."

The GT class ended in a similar fashion—the leaders crashing but still able to maintain their positions. Andy Lally, driving the TRG (The Racers Group) Porsche 911, heeded his team owner's call to stay out of the pits during the second caution. Kevin Buckler made the snap decision because felt Lally had preserved enough tire on his #66 AXA Porsche GT3 to finish the race. The brilliant strategy moved the 66 from seventh to second place.

Once positioned at the front of the pack, Lally took no prisoners. Bill Auberlen, piloting the #94 Turner Motorsports BMW M6, did eveything he could to take the position from Lally, including an accidental ramming. Auberlen ran side-by-side with Lally as the race came to a close, but bumped the leading Porsche and spun out. While Lally cruised to victory, the Turner BMW finished eighth.

"Kevin made a great call," Lally said. "We stayed out under the second to get the wave-by, then the pit crew had a lightning stop that got us out in front of the pace car. Bill was coming up on us a second a lap. We raced as clean as we could. I just held my ground—I wasn't going to give more than an inch. To celebrate my 100th race with a win was monumental."


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