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Grand Am Invades New Jersey; Gainsco Scores First Win

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On: Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 2:33PM | By: John Welch

Grand Am Invades New Jersey; Gainsco Scores First Win

For the third time in as many years, the Rolex Grand Am Series roared onto Thunderblot Raceway, formerly (or possibly still?) New Jersey Motorsports Park. The NJMP 250 Presented by CrownRoyal did not disappoint; as the action unfolded it became apparent that we would see one of the better races this year under the brutally hot New Jersey sun. That may be the first reference to the "New Jersey Sun" ever used in print . . . ever!

Qualifying was an exciting shoot-out for both Rolex categories—Daytona Prototype and Grand Touring. On the front row in GT, two stalwart American icons, Corvette and Camaro. Being driven by GM hot-shoe Jan Magnusson, the No.97 Steveson Camaro just missed pole position, giving it to the No.07 Banner Corvette of Paul Edwards in the last minute of the session. An all-Chevy front row in GT for the first time since 2003.

In DP, the penalty leveled on the BMW-powered machines finally affected their performance, somewhat, with Memo Rojas able to capture only fourth starting position in the TelMex/Ganassi BMW Riley. On pole, the No.10 Taylor Racing/SunTrust Dallara Ford, driven by Wayne Taylor's son, Ricky. Starting next to the Dallara, Jon Fogarty in the ultra-hungry No.99 Gainsco Chevrolet Riley.

I set these races up like heavyweight title fights because that is exactly what they are: knock-down, drag-out fist fights with cars. Venture inside the post for a blow-by-blow of the entire race . . .

Half a straightaway was all it took before we had cars spinning into the infield. The No.75 Krohn Racing Lola swapped ends on the opening lap, but managed to stay out of the way of its competitors, avoiding certain mayhem and the caution flag. Considering Krohn is the defending race winner, this is not how the team envisioned the opening stages of their race.

The battle in DP raged between the No.s 10, 99, 6, and 01, all four cars swapping the lead back and forth several times in the opening 45 minutes. The first caution period came after Terry Borcheller, in the ActionExpress Porsche Riley (Rolex 24 winner), rear-ended the No.90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche, sending Buddy Rice off track. The incident appeared to be malicious, but it was later discovered that Borcheller was having a hard time using his brakes. That happens when your front rotors fall off mid-lap.

A round of pit-stops, and those of us cheering the underdogs suffer heartbreak at the hands of Ganassi. After a blisteringly quick pit-stop, Rojas was able to beat both the No.s 99 and 10 off pit lane to take the race lead. The 10 lost four positions in the pit-scuffle, and two more on track as soon as the green flag fell.

There are 2 hours and 22 minutes remaing in the NJMP 250 and Rojas leads in the 01 BMW, followed by Mark Wilkins in the No.60 MSR Ford Riley, Jon Fogarty third, pushing the pace in the Gainsco Chevrolet. Wilkins fell back quickly, losing fifth place to Ricky Taylor three minutes later. The 99 gets closer and closer to the 01, a pass appearing imminent with 2:06 left as Rojas plows into the back of the No. 66 TRG Porsche, which was leading the GT class. This incident allowed Fogarty to get right on the Ganassi BMW's tail, but a slip-up allowed the No.6 Dallara through to challenge Rojas.

An hour forty-eight remaining, and Rojas dives for the pits. Complaining of overheating (the driver, not the car), it was all Rojas could do to drag himself out of the 01 and collapse on the pit wall before succumbing to his heat exhaustion. Many drivers needed medical attention for problems stemming from the heat Sunday; DP car interior temps were getting as high as 155 degrees.

The race carried on, random action dotting the laps as they wound down. After a caution, brought out by the premature death of the No. 75 Krohn Lola, the No.s 01, 99, and 6 engaged in a furious assault on turn one when the racing was allowed to continue. Three-wide into the first bend, these drivers feel the end of the race coming, and are driving as if that race end involved a guillotine for all but the race winner.

32 minutes left, and the No.97 Camaro is drilled by the 66 TRG Porsche. Magnusson's day is over and he is not pleased with the TRG boys. On the restart, Scott Pruett works his usual magic and leaves the DP field in his dust, showing the form that has won him six out of the last seven races. The dominance didn't last long, however; the 99 was within a second of the 01 with 17 minutes remaining.

Right about this time the SPEED Channel commentators start losing their minds over what might be oil down on the track. They prove to be correct, as one, and then several competitors lose traction and spin in the second to last corner. None of this matters to Alex Gurney, using every inch of race track to try to maneuver the 99 Chevrolet around Pruett's BMW Riley.

Then, a miracle! The Ganassi BMW seems to slow coming off of one corner, and follows that by taking the next corner very gingerly. Gurney pounces, sensing an unusual issue rearing its head beneath the 01's gleaming sheetmetal. With a minute-48 left in the race, Gurney puts the pedal down exiting the last corner on the track and has Pruett cleared before the start/finish line. Pruett has a tire going down, but Gurney couldn't care less why he is being handed the lead, only that he can almost taste Gainsco's first victory of the season, first victory with a "Chevrolet" badge on the flanks of the red 99.

Gainsco wins New Jersey! All in all, a stellar race, culminating in a fantastic finish. Pretty much what we have come to expect from the Rolex Grand Am Series.

The excellent image gallery is taken from Grand-Am's homepage.

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)


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