Alex Popow and Sebastien Bourdais took a historic win on the Grand-Am Rolex Series’ first visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, securing the inaugural North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) for the team. Meanwhile, Popow taking the drivers’ title in the ‘mini championship’ comprised of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sahlen Six Hours of The Glen and the three hour race at IMS.
Popow started the #2 Ford-Riley, surviving contact with a spinning Antonia Garcia at turn two within just corners of the start of racing, but it was Bourdais who closed out the race. The multi-time Champ Car champion slicing through the DP field in a matter of laps to drive past Ryan Dalziel for the lead approaching turn one.
Bourdais held the lead for the final half hour to secure the first Rolex Series silverware of the year for Starworks Motorsport. However, it was a bitter sweet race for Peter Baron’s squad, after controversial late race contact with Juan Pablo Montoya dumped Dalziel into the turn two gravel, bringing out the last of nine full course cautions in the event and knocking Dalziel and co-driver Enzo Potolicchio off the lead lap and down to a 17th place overall finish – only seventh in the DP class.
The ill feeling about the incident which left Dalziel stranded was not help by Montoya’s presence in the #02 Chip Ganassi Racing car. Sharing with Scott Dixon and Jamie McMurray, the entry was added for the Grand-Am on the Kroger Superweekend, aiming to help Ganassi’s team to the NAEC.
Despite Rolex regulars Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett’s second place in the race the missed out on the NAEC title, but with Dalziel’s misfortune left the track with an increased margin at the top of the Rolex Series points.
That was despite a pair of uncharacteristic spins shared evenly between the multiple series champions, both drivers floundering for grip in the cloudbursts that punctuated the opening portion of the race, the first forcing the race to start under a full course caution due to the amount of standing water.
The track dried out quickly, drivers searching for water offline to quench the protesting rain tyres within a quarter of a hour and the first pitstops for slick tyres coming inside the opening half hour. Only for a second violent rain storm to sweep through just twenty minutes later.
The second period of rain was by far the more destructive. From third Ozz Negri was caught out by a combination of the treacherous conditions and GT class traffic in the Michael Shank Racing Riley, bringing to an end the NAEC challenge of the Rolex 24 winners. Also taken out of NAEC contention by the second shower were Stevenson Motorsports duo Robin Liddell and John Edwards.
After dominating the GT class in the opening period of the Liddell, struggling on slicks onto a sodden pitlane at the head of the entire field, slid helplessly into the pitwall damaging the left-rear of the Camaro.
The damage ended the pair’s assault on the race win, but also derailed their title challenge. And that was only half the story of despair for Stevenson Motorsports as Ronnie Bremer’s race in the team’s other car ended after contact with Memo Rojas as the DP driver tried to thread his way between Camaro and the outside wall around the final corner.
Despite picking up minor damage, both from contact with the wall and Bremer’s Camaro the #01 still finished in second place with SunTrust Racing in third and the star-stuffed #02 Ganassi BMW-Riley in fourth overall.
Michael Shank Racing where not the only DP team to find trouble at the Brickyard. Spirit of Daytona Racing were taken out of contention by Garcia’s early spin while the two Action Express Racing Corvette DPs – representing the team that arrived at IMS in the NAEC lead – went off in separate incidents, Joao Barbosa in the #9 another to find the gravel at Montoya’s behest late in the race.
Fifth overall – testament to the oft interrupted nature of the race – were GT winners Magnus Racing. For Andy Lally and John Potter the win was perfect timing. The pair’s car for the Indianapolis weekend was a brand new Porsche GT3 after the conflagration that claimed their previous charge at Watkins Glen. Like many of the Porsche teams in the series they had struggled against Ferrari, Audi and Camaro teams in the GT class by a dominant show in the closing stage by Lally propelled them to a second win of the season, following their win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
That win, despite the fiery DNF at The Glen,was enough to propel them to the NAEC title in GT ahead of the Speedsource Mazda team that chased them to the checkered flag at Indianapolis.
With fifth in class – ninth overall AIM Autosport’s Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato extended their points lead in the Rolex Series over Liddell.