Pruett and Rojas drive Lexus to win at Watkins Glen
Defending Daytona Prototype champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were still vying for their first victory of 2009 entering Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, running fourth, 14 points behind in the standings.
But that changed in the second-longest race on the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 schedule, with the duo cruising to victory and taking a share of the championship lead at Watkins Glen International in the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
It was the team's third victory in the event - and both prior times Pruett went on to capture the Daytona Prototype title, in 2004 (with Max Papis) and 2008. They dominated the event, leading 142 of the 188 laps on the 3.4-mile circuit - including the final 35 laps.
The point lead also changed in the Acxiom GT class, with Dirk Werner and Leh Keen winning their second race of the 2009 campaign in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3.
"The championship is back to being a nail-biter," said Pruett, who scored his series-extending 20th Daytona Prototype victory. "It's going to be a fight with the SunTrust, GAINSCO and Penske teams. There are a lot of guys in the mix and a lot of exciting racing going on. It's going to go down to the wire at Homestead-Miami Speedway."
Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty entered the event with an eight-point lead, but had a frustrating day. Gurney needed four pit stops early in the race while the team worked on handling problems on the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley, which dropped them to 16th - four laps down. The pair battled to get back on the lead lap. Fogarty was running sixth with two hours remaining when he tangled with Rolex 24 winner David Donohue in Turn 8, spinning into a gravel trap and retiring with floorboard damage resulting from the car being towed from the trap.
"It was just an all-around forgettable day," Gurney said. "We were reasonably competitive and thinking about the championship we just had a lot of things go wrong today. We were running fifth and we were in good shape - it was just unfortunate."
Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle finished second in the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara, moving into a tie for the title with the Ganassi duo; all four drivers have 140 points. Timo Bernard and Romain Dumas finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley, tying Gurney and Fogarty for third in the standings - six points behind the leaders with 134.
Rounding out the top five at The Glen were the two Michael Shank Racing Ford Rileys. Ozz Negri and Mark Patterson finished fourth in the No. 60, followed by Michael Valiante and John Pew in the No. 6.
Sixth place went to JC France, Joao Barbosa and Hurley Haywood, who advanced a race-high 11 positions in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley. Haywood celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first of six class victories in the Six Hours of The Glen.
"I would say that this is probably my last race at The Glen," said Haywood, the circuit's all-time leading winner with nine victories. "I had a great time. But when you don't do this every week - my last race was the Rolex 24 At Daytona - you're rusty, you're not confident in traffic. I was concerned I didn't hurt the car or do something stupid. I just wanted to bring the car back in one piece."
The race was slowed by seven cautions for 28 laps. Pruett and Rojas averaged 105.201 mph.
Dirk Werner and Leh Keen led 103 of 178 laps in winning the Acxiom GT class in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3, collecting the championship lead after scoring their second victory of the season.
"We didn't drive away," said Werner, the 2007 GT champion. "We had to drive hard the whole way. I think our key was good strategy, and a little luck with a caution flag."
Keen and Werner entered the race with a one-point deficit to Spencer Pumpelly, but now have an eight-point lead after the driver of the No. 66 AXA/Mitchell Rubber Porsche GT3 finished fifth (151-143). Pumpelly co-drove with John Potter and Craig Stanton.
Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins finished second in the No. 07 Pontiac/LRPG Pontiac GXP.R, while Wolf Henzler and Eric Lux took third in the No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3.
Robin Liddell led 31 laps in the No. 57 BryanMark Financial/Stevenson Automotive Pontiac GXP.R co-driven by Andrew Davis, and was running in the top five when he spun into a gravel trap in the closing laps - causing the race to end under caution.
Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham both led in the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8, but a pit road speeding penalty dropped the team out of contention. They finished fourth. Defending Sahlen's Six Hour winners Emil Assentato, Jeff Segal and Nick Longhi finished sixth in the No. 69 SpeedSource FXDD Mazda RX-8.
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