Alex Job Racing wins Laguna Seca Grand-Am race No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford co-drivers Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long helped establish a new Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve record by becoming the fifth different winners in five races to start the season in Sunday's U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Bergmeister claimed the lead from Jon Fogarty with 32 laps remaining when Fogarty brought the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley onto pit lane for its final pit stop and to turn the car over to co-driver Alex Gurney. With the second, third and fourth place cars filling his mirrors throughout the closing laps, however, Bergmeister was forced to conserve fuel in order to make it to the finish.
Bergmeister's big break came on Lap 89 of the 91-lap race, when Matthew Alhadeff brought out the day's seventh and final full-course caution period when he slid the No. 05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport BMW Riley into the gravel trap at Turn 4. However, there were still a few nervous moments for the team as Bergmeister still had to make it to the finish line without running out of fuel, but the German did just that to make it five winners in five races, topping the previous record of four to start the 2004 season.
"We were rolling the dice," Bergmeister said. "I really don't know how much fuel we had left in the car. I got a low fuel warning on the white flag lap, and I was pretty sure we were going to make it there. When I knew it was going to be about six minutes left, I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be close.' But it worked out well, even on the last restart. I was really lean on the fuel, and trying to conserve as much as I could. We had great strategy today and we really needed this. We've had such a tough start to the season, and it's good to be back."
It was the first win for the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team since Long and Mike Rockenfeller took the victory in last year's VIR 400. It was also Bergmeister's first win since the 2006 event at Barber Motorsports Park, the last of three wins he scored en route to the Daytona Prototype title. The victory tops the team's previous best 2007 result of fifth at Mexico City in March.
"It feels great, personally and for the team," Long said. "It's been one of the most humbling 12 months of our own careers, but that's what makes it all the much sweeter. We needed a little bit of luck from the racing gods today on the fuel strategy. I don't know if I can stomach many more of those races. I'm still a little tranquilized by that one. It was good. We had a car that could race all weekend, and that's the first time we felt consistently up there in all the sessions this weekend, so that's a positive thing. It's guys like those on the Ganassi team that make us work that much harder, and again, it's a humbling experience after all the adversity we've been through. It's great to be back up here, and hopefully we can carry the momentum into this rest of this season and race with these guys week in and week out."
A second-place result in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley for 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett coupled with a 15th-place performance by No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Max Angelelli moved Pruett back atop the Daytona Prototype point standings by five points, 148-143, over Angelelli and Magnussen. Pruett led one lap as the last pit stop sequence played itself out and kept the pressure on Bergmeister throughout the closing stages, but wound up second with co-driver Memo Rojas.
"We heard about (the No. 23 team's) fuel situation, and that was more their concern," Pruett said. "Unfortunately, there was a car that got off and it was good for them and not for us. Most of all, we were looking at gaining points on them, so I wasn't going to do anything risky. This is a very difficult track to pass on. The Ganassi guys, we always work on the car, making it good on tires that are very old, and on the second stop, we didn't take tires. We had good passes, but they were scraping and it was close, and you can't afford to take some of those chances sometimes. It'll just kill your day. You've got to be extremely careful about passing here, but the TELMEX car ran very well, and we're glad to be back here and come away with the lead in the championship."
It was the second podium result of the season for Pruett and Rojas as co-drivers, and was the third podium of the season overall for Pruett and the No. 01 team. Pruett co-drove the No. 01 machine to the victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona with Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran, while Rojas shared the team's No. 02 Target/TELMEX Lexus Riley with IndyCar champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon. It was also a career-best Rolex Series result for Rojas, eclipsing his previous best run of third at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March.
"I'm very happy," Rojas said. "I want to congratulate the team and Scott for an awesome job this weekend. The qualifying was pretty close. It was very hard to pass on this race track. We had to be smart with our decisions and keep the car on the track, and hopefully everything would work out well for us. I did the first half of the race, and then Scott got in and did an awesome job. We got Scott the points lead back and I'm very happy for the entire TELMEX team."
Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson completed the podium with a third-place run aboard the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley. Patterson drove the early portion of the race before handing off to Negri, who brought the team its first podium result since he and Patterson claimed the victory in the 2006 Rolex Series season finale at Miller Motorsports Park. Their run from 12th on the starting grid to third at the finish also netted the teammates the "SunTrust Improve Your Position Award."
"The car was very good," said Negri. "We studied our strategy hard. We had many different ideas, and stuck with what we thought would be the right stuff. This is an extremely hard track to pass. I had to be very precise on the passes, not banging around and off everybody. I just feel very, very happy."
"It's good to be back here," added Patterson. "To be up here with these top guys here is pretty cool. This was a great race, and it started very fast. There could have been a mess in Turn 1 there on the first lap, but everybody was pretty tidy, so it's kind of cool."
No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley co-drivers Darren Law and David Donohue continued their recent run of success with a fourth-place outing in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express. Law and Donohue also finished third in the VIR 400 last month and have now finished inside the top six in four consecutive races.
Ryan Dalziel and Patrick Carpentier filled out the top five with a fifth-place showing in the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley. Both Dalziel and Carpentier have now finished inside the top five in three 2007 Rolex Series events, topped by a second-place performance in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Fogarty led a race-high 38 laps in the No. 99 machine but clutch problems relegated him and Gurney to sixth place in the final rundown. John Pew and Ian James made it two Michael Shank Racing cars in the top 10 with a seventh-place run in the No. 6 Playboy Lexus Riley, while Colin Braun and Max Papis capped an eventful weekend with an eighth-place result in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley. After running as high as third at one point, Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins wound up ninth in the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold/AIM Autosport Lexus Riley, and Memo Gidley and Guy Cosmo completed the top 10 in the No. 77 Kodak/Doran Racing Ford Doran.
Christian Fittipaldi led 20 laps in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar, but an off-course excursion by co-driver Harrison Brix contributed to an 11th-place performance. An off-course excursion by Angelelli was also to blame for a 15th-place result for him, Magnussen and the No. 10 SunTrust team.
Pos Num Class Team Car Laps Gap
1. 23 DP Alex Job Racing Porsche Crawford 91 0.000
2. 01 DP Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley 91 0.727
3. 60 DP Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley 91 1.357
4. 58 DP Brumos Porsche Porsche Riley 91 1.532
5. 11 DP SAMAX Motorsports Pontiac Riley 91 3.044
6. 99 DP Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley 91 4.110
7. 6 DP Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley 91 4.842
8. 75 DP Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley 91 6.833
9. 61 DP AIM Autosport Lexus Riley 91 7.421
10. 77 DP Doran Racing Ford Doran 91 8.850
11. 39 DP Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar 91 9.226
12. 3 DP Southard Motorsports Lexus Riley 91 9.867
13. 76 DP Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley 91 12.252
14. 59 DP Brumos Porsche Porsche Riley 89 2 laps
15. 10 DP SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley 89 2 laps
16. 05 DP Team Sigalsport BMW BMW Riley 83 8 laps
17. 91 DP Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley 54 37 laps
18. 12 DP RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley 52 39 laps
19. 19 DP Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford 10 81 laps