Lexington, Ohio - It was another record-setting GRAND-AM race weekend as the series staged a championship-deciding season finale at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The 2011 GRAND-AM season marked the first year that drivers in both the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the Rolex Sports Car Series all competed on Continental Tires. The Mid-Ohio race weekend saw new track records set in both series as the competitors made the most of the cool conditions with their Continental Tires.
But with several championships on the line, the new track records were just the start of an exciting weekend as several dramatic championship battles played out and the race saw a surprise new Rolex Series winner emerging from the fray.
Determined to 'win or wreck,' Ryan Dalziel held off newly crowned Daytona Prototype champion Scott Pruett by .416 seconds in a fraught late-race battle to capture a win in the final race of the 2011 season.
"This is absolutely huge for Starworks," said Dalziel of his team. "We've been through some rough years, but team owner Peter (Baron) keeps brining me back. We went off-sequence to make sure we had the freshest possible tires late in the race. We ran extremely trim, and at the end-we didn't want that yellow. We felt like with the car and the tires, we were getting better and better as the run went on. Our tires held up, and we were definitely strong at the end. Today was one of those days when it all comes together. At the end, I was driving my butt off to stay ahead of Scott. I said in my head, 'I'm going to win or wreck.' I'm also excited to win for Ford."
While the Ganassi duo had been hoping to emerge with yet another win, Pruett and Memo Rojas still had a strong day as they clinched their third DP title in four years by completing the minimum 30 minutes in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley required to score points. Pruett made numerous attempts to close the year on a winning note, but Dalziel was up to the task to give the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford/Riley started by Venezuelan rookie Enzo Potolicchio its first victory of the season.
It was Pruett's fourth DP title and the fifth team championship for Chip Ganassi Racing since entering the Rolex Series in 2004. BMW also won the DP Manufacturer's championship in a double tiebreaker with Chevrolet, based on the team's five second place finishes.
"It's been an incredible year for us. We've had our ups and downs, but we've been focused as a team to get our car to the front as much as possible. All my championships are great. I never thought I'd still be winning championships at this point in my career." Scott Pruett, No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley, D
Rounding out the podium were third-place finishers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet/Riley, who were looking to end the year with two straight victories. The final points standings saw the Ganassi duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas with 385, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor with 353, and David Donohue and Darren Law with 318.
While the DP title was all but a forgone conclusion, the Rolex GT Class had three different possible champions in play as the field took the green flag. Bill Lester - bidding to become the country's first African-American champ of a major auto racing series - and Jordan Taylor - looking to become GRAND-AM's youngest champion - came up two points shy in their bid to make history in the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. Lester spun and lost a lap in the opening minutes, and the team fought back to regain the lead lap and finish eighth.
Ronnie Bremer and Robin Liddell took the GT victory - combining to lead 34 laps to win the second straight race for the No. 57 Stevenson Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro.
Andrew Davis and Leh Keen finished fourth to capture the championship in Brumos Racing's first season in the GT class. The co-drivers of the No. 59 Brumos Porsche GT3 were trailing Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito, drivers of the No. 70 Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8, late in the event. However, Keen beat Bomarito out of the pits following the final pit stop and held that advantage for the remainder of the event.
"At the beginning of the year, Hurley Haywood sat us down and told us we were going to race to win races and championships. Winning the championship in our first year shows what Brumos is made of. This championship feels better than my first, doing it the way we did it and how it all unfolded, bringing Brumos back to GT. At first we wanted just to get a podium. Then we kept winning and winning." Leh Keen, No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche 911 GT3, GT Champion.
The Rolex Series race was the second championship-deciding race of the day as the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge ushered in two class champions. Turner Motorsport scored their first GRAND-AM Team and Driver Championship since 2007 as Paul Dalla Lana brought the famed BMW group the top honors. In ST, Nic Jonsson and his Kinetic Motorsports group scored the year-end honors with a run to 7th as the closest contender--Ryan Eversely--finished 10th.
The next activity for the Rolex Series will be the Rolex Champions Banquet presented by SunTrust at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on Monday, Sept. 26. The 2012 Rolex Series opens with the Jan 28-29 50th anniversary running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. There will also be the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 5-8.
GRAND-AM will hold open tests for the Rolex Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competitors at Barber Motorsports Park on Oct. 17-18, and Daytona International Speedway on Nov. 15-16. There will also be a Rolex Series open test at Daytona on Dec. 6-7.