In a race with as many twists as the 20 turn Circuit of the Americas hosting the Rolex Series for the first time a communication problem between driver and pits helped Alex Gurney collect the first win for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing in over a year.
In a quirky sequence of events when the team made the decision to make their final pitstop of the race early in the final hour of the race they were unable to contact Gurney over the radio, resorting to requesting the race officials show him the black flag to bring him into the pit. The officials complied at Gurney was one of a handful of the Daytona Prototype teams to pit before a second full course caution flag.
The yellow flag – brought out by Ozz Negri stopping the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley with damage resulting from contact with Richard Westbrook’s Spirit of Daytona Racing entry – played into Gurney’s hands lifting him up to second behind Brendon Hartley. They, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Antonio Pizzonia were the only four drivers to pit before the yellow closed the pitlane, leaving erstwhile leader Max Angelelli with no option than to make his own final stop under yellow, dropping to fifth in the process.
Once the green flag flew again the roller-coaster race still had a few more twists to deliver.
Hartley, who had fought back from a lap down in the #8 Starworks Motorsport Ford-Riley started by Scott Mayer, made contact with a GT class car, instantly breaking the DP’s suspension and retiring from the race.
That gave – improbably – the lead back to Gurney, chased by – also improbably – Pruett with – perhaps more improbably – Ryan Dalziel hounding the pair of them in third in Starworks’ other Ford-Riley.
All three had suffered dramas of one sort another since the start of the race when Jon Fogarty and Memo Rojas – respective co-drivers of the cars that were now first and second – made the run up to turn one at original start of the race.
That time Rojas won the battle, taking the lead and then using his prerogative as leader to run right to the outside of the road on exit forcing a shuffle behind that forced pole-sitter Fogarty back to third behind Ricky Taylor in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP.
For almost the entirety of his stint – roughly the first 100 minutes of the two hour, 45 minute race – Rojas was the class of the field. Initially he was aided by a fierce battle for second that featured Ricky Taylor, his brother Jordan in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car and Fogarty. However, Rojas’ class was reinforced following the first caution period when he fought past Negri and Christian Fittipaldi, both of whom had benefitted from pitting before the caution in the same way Gurney would later in the race.
However, with the hand over to Rolex Series veteran Scott Pruett the team’s fortunes seemed to change in an instant. Firstly the team lost the lead in the pits, Max Angelelli and the Wayne Taylor Racing team beating them to pit exit, the – trying to reverse the switch – Pruett tried to run side-by-side with Angelelli into the Esses. Taking to kerb in turn three caught Pruett out, the car launched into the air by the ‘speed bump’ guarding the inside of the corner, ejecting the front bodywork though miraculously not doing any greater damage to front of the car.
Pruett returned to the pits the following lap, the 3.4 mile lap – two minutes for the fastest DP drivers – helping him maintain a place on the lead lap that was to become crucial when the caution flag flew when Negri parked the #60.
Pruett’s – in hindsight temporary – fall down the order gave Angelelli a relatively comfortable lead that was only to be erased by the caution and subsequent pitstops. His late race luck went from bad to worse when he tangled with Pizzonia at turn one while trying to fight back to the front. The pair simply converged on the apex at turn one from two wildly different approaches Pizzonia spinning the #6 Michael Shank Racing car down the order. Angelelli, meanwhile, was given a 60-second stop-go penalty for his role in the contact, the harsh penalties a factor throughout the race.
Westbrook had been given the same punishment for making contact with Negri, spinning the Brazilian around at turn 15. Earlier in race the penalties had also impacted on the GT race, Patrick Long pulled out of the class lead to serve a penalty for when co-driver Patrick Lindsey span John Edwards’ Stevenson Motorsport Camaro shortly the first caution. Action Express Racing’s Burt Frisselle had set the tone for the penalties, deemed guilty for spinning Alex Popow to begin an incident at left both cars with damage, Popow continuing in a #2 missing a chunk of front bodywork and carrying steering damage that Dalziel was battling in the final stages just as he was battling Pruett and Gurney.
Despite everything Dalziel was able to use GT traffic to take second from Pruett on the penultimate lap before pressuring Gurney through the final lap, though he was unable to pry the victory from him. Pruett completed the podium while 8 Star Motorsports’ Enzo Potolicchio and Stephane Sarrazin recovered from their own penalty – for hitting one of the #99’s tyre carriers in the opening pitstops of the race – Fittipaldi and Brian Frisselle completed the top five, Krohn Racing an impressive sixth in the Ford-Lola, a previous generation of DP compared to all their competitors.
The GT class was a similarly topsy-turvy battle all race. Long’s brief stay in the lead before having to serve his penalty was a blip on a day largely dominated by Ferrari squads. Though the R.Ferri/AIM Autosport #61 endured problems in the form of long pitstops the Scuderia Corsa car of pole winner Alessandro Balzan and Alessandro Pier Guidi looked unstoppable.
After the second caution there was another Porsche – the #44 Magnus Racing car of Andy Lally – who led with Mike Skeen third in Park Place Motorsports’ #72. Pier Guidi restarted second between the Porsche pair.
As the battle for the lead entered the race’s final laps impressively given the pace the Ferraris had had all week Lally kept the lead fighting side-by-side through the esses. After a bout of wheel-banging the smallest of touches to the rear bumper of the Porsche pushed him off track enough for Pier Guidi to nip into the lead. However, even that touch was enough to draw a penalty.
Though Pier Guidi continued on to take the checkered flag in first position he would have the penalty added to his time in the results, dropping he and Balzan down to eleventh place. The pass in the stewards’ room completed the comeback for the #94 Turner Motorsports BMW M3.
Paul Dalla Lana started the car, but spun under braking at turn one. He narrowly avoided taking out his own teammate before stopping on the tarmac run off area on the outside of the corner helping to bring out the first caution of the race.
With Bill Auberlen taking over the car the comeback began, starting from two laps in arrears to retake a place on the tail of the lead lap during the mid-race succession of green flag pitstops. Auberlen made his own stop – crucially – before the second caution appeared allowing him to take full advantage of his lead lap standing by gaining track position to restart in fifth.
Within two laps of the restart Auberlen was third passing Skeen and Andrew Davis in the Brumos Racing Porsche in the same lap before passing Lally three laps from the end of the race in the wake of the controversial move for the lead.
The win for Auberlen and Dalla Lana completed a winning weekend for Turner Motorsports, the same two drivers having won the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race earlier the same day.