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Ganassi Celebrates The Fourth With Win Despite Penalties

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On: Mon, Jul 5, 2010 at 3:10PM | By: John Welch


Ganassi Celebrates The Fourth With Win Despite Penalties

A NASCAR weekend is its own microcosm, it's own universe of t-shirts and ball caps and beer cozies and all of the tens of thousands of semi-trailers and support equipment needed in order to supply the NASCAR fan with poorly made merchandise that they can get for half-price on the Internet. An added bonus, all of this commercialism completely covers every square inch of Daytona International Speedway parking space. Except, of course, for the handicapped parking that never fills all the way up. The one crappy thing I have to say about the entire weekend is that all of the P.R. nonsense about "free parking" is complete B.S. There it is, rant over, now for the unabashed puffery. The pro-motorsports Wonkism. Whatever you'd like to call it, it was worth the $40 parking and the mile and a half walk.

Dateline, July 3rd, 9 a.m., Grand-Am final practice begins under auspicious skies of gray and eggshell. Rain threatening, a few GT cars made their way out on to the Speedway, Mazda 4-rotors competing for my ear's attention with low-pitched, baby-eating Chevy small-blocks. Repeat: never has a vehicle made an ear-splittingly beautiful noise like the Speed Source Mazda RX8's. F1 cars wail, the Lola Aston Martin reports with a Singer-smooth V12 syrup symphony, and full-bore racing small-blocks sound as if they are rearranging molecules within each tortured cylinder. The Mazda, again, sounds like thirty CART open-wheelers at once. The bizarre roar emanating from a single 4-rotor powered car as it blasts around Daytona is enough to cause goose-bumps that fist fight each other. My pores are bloodied. This opinion is not universal; my camera-mule, Steve, was not fond of the Mazda engine note one bit. After practice he opined that the Mazda was borderline annoying. Different strokes for different folks I guess, but I think he's nuts!

Not that the other Grand-Am cars aren't absolutely astounding either. Upon clearing the entrance to the grandstands directly underneath the Sprint tower, the sounds and smells of race-gas being squished, popped and then evacuated by Daytona Prototypes was clear and refreshing. I had been listening to either police sirens or rain all night, the muted farts of a DP banging off its pit-speed limiter was music to my ears. Farts, really, I'm not kidding. I don't think these high-strung engines enjoy rpms lower then 2,000. They seem to protest, argue with the pit road mandated speed limiter. The Ganassi BMW sounds as if it is shedding all four camshafts when relegated to the pit-road engine map. It isn't, in fact those cam shafts are spinning with perfection, as expected from the nearly flawless Ganassi boys.

Practice complete, we retire to our rented Ford Focus for a quick breakfast of Equate-brand Turkey and white bread of indistinguishable origins. 7-11 maybe? Winn-Dixie? Who knows where we got it from; we were very tired when packing for the day. Good thing the car was a rental; it was the unfortunate recipient of a merciless barrage of corn-hole bags and footballs, launched from the wobbling, drunken arms of our fellow race fans as they attempted to mix copious amounts of booze with serious competition. Munching my soggy sandwich while watching the showdown through my Ford-supplied vanity mirror, I was unable to tell who was winning but could clearly see that everyone was having a great time.

No time for Steve and I to enjoy this thing they called "beer", it was almost 11 a.m. now, time for the Brumos Porsche 250. Our impression of the race, inside the post . . .

July 3rd, 11:01, here comes the thunder! During a NASCAR event the fun-police will prevent you from sitting anywhere you want or leaning on the fence or generally enjoying yourself without spending money. Grand-Am is totally different. Not that they encourage any sort of serious hooliganism, or even anything slightly unsafe. That is not what I'm saying. There just aren't as many crowds to control during the Brumos Porsche 250, so the crowd that is in attendance is free to roam the grandstands. This helps when trying to find a place to take pictures without focusing through the catch-fence. Which happened anyway. Did I mention that DIS is just about as cool as a facility could possibly be? An astounding building that requires stamina to navigate. Upstairs, down stairs stairs stairs stairs. I think I lost weight and am happier for it.

Green Flag! The One Hundredth Daytona Prototype race is underway! Ironically, taking place at Daytona . . . ahem, anyway . . . The nature of a "sprint" race is radically different from an endurance race. The cars and drivers have a much shorter period of time to accomplish position improvements, which, of course, leads to spectacular racing from the drop of the green flag. There were two battles in particular that I will highlight before regurgitating all the stats and results from the Brumos Porsche 250.

First, in the GT class, there were several dog fights for position at the beginning of the race. I was fairly certain that the drivers of the No. 28 Lou Giulloti Corvette and No. 57 Stevenson Camaro were trying to kill each other. In the very least they were playing a game of "Braking Deep Chicken" which was highly entertaining for those of us in the grandstands. Each time these two GM beasts roared off of the tri-oval approaching the infield Turn 1, the Camaro would dive-bomb the Corvette, squeezing its blunt nose just ahead before slamming on the binders and losing the position in a cloud of tire smoke. This happened three or four laps in a row, right in front of us.

There were other fenders to be crushed over the course of the race. Daytona-favorite Sylvain Tremblay detonated a rear tire on the back stretch, causing the No. 70 Speed Source Mazda to lose the lead and shredding its rear body work in the process. The Mazda contingent was strong on this day, but they kept running each other off course, usually at the entrance to the infield, leaving the door open for other teams and manufacturers to get on the recently rotary-dominated podium. After passing the No. 28 coming out of the infield, Andrew Davis and the No. 57 Stevenson Camaro went on to finish third. Sharing in the GT Camaro's first podium was Robin Liddell, long time Stevenson shoe.

The top two spots on the GT podium were contested right up until the No. 94 Turner BMW M6 ran out of fuel with nine laps to go. January’s Rolex 24 was the first outing for the Turner car, and even though it didn't finish in the points it was still mighty impressive. Having half a season of racing and development under their belts, the Turner team was poised to take their first Rolex Series GT victory. Ahh, but never count out a Porsche, even in Grand-Am, which according to winning owner Kevin Buckler "(Grand Am) Utilizes a rules package that is biased against the Porsche 911!" To drive this point home Buckler has skipped two races this season.

For the final thirty laps all eyes were on Andy Lally and Bill Auberlen, Lally piloting Buckler's TRG Porsche and Auberlen behind the helm of the Turner BMW. "Fight!" is the only word to describe the final few laps before the Bimmer had to pit. It all started with the TRG Porsche pulling a wide lead on the field while the Turner BMW worked its way through the field after qualifying poorly. As the TRG car built its lead Auberlen and co-driver Paul Dalla Lana quietly muscled the V10-powered nightmare through the ranks, eventually finding themselves in second, eight seconds back from the TRG Porsche. I don't know what Buckler's problem is, but it seemed to me that these two cars were as evenly matched as one could possibly expect from a production-derived six-cylinder Porsche and a tube-frame V10 BMW. Vastly different cars, but the lithe Porsche made time in the infield while the BMW out-powered everything including some Prototypes on the straights and super-stretch.

Lap 58, the No. 66 is coming in for its final mandatory stop and the Turner BMW blasts by just as the Porsche is released from its jack stands. The BMW leads for a few laps but still has to make its final stop. Has Auberlen built enough cushion to pit and not be overtaken by the Germanic missile underneath Lilly’s determined ass? Lap 62, the Bimmer ducks into the pits. Tension rises as the tire changers race to the driver side of the yellow BMW as the TRG Porsche comes into view, stage left, Turn Four. The sweat beads as the Turner car peels out and races toward the end of pit road, and the end of the pit road speed limiter. Lally crosses the start/finish line; Auberlen crosses the pit exit stripe. The Porsche is greeted by the BMW's menacing rear-bumper as it accelerates out of infield Turn 1. Auberlen has done it; he has secured a first place finish for the team, himself, and BMW. Five laps later and the No. 94 limps down the front stretch to the pits, running on fumes and not able to compete with the candy-colored TRG Porsche that just blew its doors off. Another fantastic battle of strategy, wits, and speed, drama that cannot be replicated by any other sport, televised, safe or not.

The Daytona Prototype race was even more engrossing, the top five cars staying right on top of each other the entire race. That is, until the Gainsco boys and the Ganassi fellahs decided they were faster than everyone else. That's when the fiberglass started flying, somewhere around lap 20.

Leading up to the first of several violent spins, the fans were treated to nose-to-tail racing of the highest order. Lap after lap the train came down the front stretch, roared into infield Turn 1 and then back out the Speedway's colon, on to the banking of NASCAR Turn 1. The No. 10 Ford Dallara of SunTrust Racing held point for most of the first few rotations, but a spin off the nose of the Gainsco No. 99 left this car mired in the back of the pack. Then it was Brian Frisell's turn to lead, also behind the wheel of a Dallara Ford. The bright blue, sponsorless Mike Shank Racing No. 6 led for several laps while the Gainsco and Ganassi cars closed in. These two didn't make any friends along the way, the Gainsco No. 99 car taking out a the No. 10 SunTrust car, right after the Ganassi No. 01 rammed the No. 61 (Mike Shanks other car), tearing off its nose and ending any hopes of a victory for the Pacific Tel team. Eventually the No. 99 caught some tire and traffic issues, putting them out of the hunt for the win. This left a blue Dallara and a blue Riley duking it out for the victory.

Mind you, all of these cars produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 bhp. When it was discovered last week that the Dinan-built BMW V8 may be creeping up on 600 bhp, Grand-Am leveled a hefty penalty on the Ganassi team, as well as any team running the BMW power plant. With smaller restrictors on the air-box and an extra 75 lbs. of ballast, the BMW-powered cars should have been dogs compared with everyone else. And that was the case, to a point.

Ganassi doesn't win everything because they have the stoutest motor or the best chassis. They win everything because they employ two of the best drivers in the World—Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Based on their pilots' skills, Ganassi takes almost all of the down force off of his prototypes, leaving a slippery Riley capable of speeds ten to fifteen mph faster than everyone else. Somehow Pruett muscles the car through corners just as well as everyone else with half the down force, and thus Ganassi has won every race this season, save for the Rolex 24. Pruett was not able to over-power Russell’s Dallara Ford, but he was able to put serious pressure on it. Frissell finally relented to the onslaught on lap 60, leaving a clear race course for the Ganassi/TelMex BMW.

Though it wasn't a solid lock, the Ganassi win wasn't a surprise to anyone, posing the question: "Is Ganassi ruining Grand-Am the same way he has ruined the IRL?" That isn't completely fair, because Penske and thousands of other factors have combined to make the IRL boring, and the Rolex Series is far from boring. Ganassi can't help it if he can buy a better driver than you. Sorry.

Scott Pruett, after the race: "It's great for our team to win the 100th DP race—that's incredible."

"That says a lot for GRAND-AM for what they've achieved and where it's going. It's a special mark for our team. Today we didn't have the fastest race car, but we raced smart and we raced clean and we did what we had to do. Good things happen to good people."

Race Results, Brumos Porsche 250, Daytona Prototypes

1 01 DP 1 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates / Scott Pruett, Auburn, CA; Memo Rojas, Mexico City, Mexico

BMW Riley TELMEX

2 8 DP 2 StarworksMotorsport / Mike Forest, Edmonton, AB Canada; Ryan Dalziel, Orlando,FL

BMW Riley Corsa Car Care

3 60 DP 3 Michael Shank Racing / John Pew, North Palm Beach, FL; Oswaldo Negri Jr, Miami, FL

Ford Riley Crown Royal XR

4 59 DP 4 Brumos Racing / Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ ; David Donohue, Malvern, PA

Porsche Riley Brumos

5 77 DP 5 Doran Racing / Memo Gidley, Novato, CA ; Dion von Moltke, Coral Gables, FL

Ford Dallara Mcdonalds/ PR

6 75 DP 6 Krohn Racing / Tracy Krohn, Houston, TX ; Nic Jonsson, Sweden

Ford Lola

7 99 DP 7 GAINSCO/ Bob Stallings Racing / Jon Fogarty, Bend, OR; Alex Gurney, Irvine, CA

Chevrolet Riley GAINSCO Auto

8 90 DP 8 Spirit of Daytona Racing / Antonio Garcia, Spain; ; Buddy Rice, Phoenix, AZ

Porsche Coyote

9 10 DP 9 SunTrust Racing / Max Angelelli, Monaco; Ricky Taylor, Apopka, FL

Ford Dallara SunTrust

10 9 DP 10 Action Express Racing / Terry Borcheller, Vero Beach, FL; Joao Barbosa, Portugal

Porsche Riley

24 61 DP 11 Aim Autosport / Burt Frisselle, Aspen, CO ; Mark Wilkins, Toronto, ON Canada

Ford Riley Pacific Mobile

25 6 DP 12 Michael Shank Racing / Michael Valiante, Vancouver, BC Canada; Brian Frisselle, Aspen, CO

Ford Dallara The Pit Stop on

29 7 DP 13 Starworks Motorsport / Bill Lester, Atlanta, Ga; Nelson Philippe, Miami, FL

BMW Riley Flex-Box/ Xtreme


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