Record turnout honors top Rolex Series competitors
The top performers of 2007 were honored Monday night at the Venetian before a record crowd in the annual Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Champions Banquet.
While champions Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Dirk Werner, Pontiac and Porsche won major accolades at the gala fete, expectations for 2008 began with several announcements of plans for the upcoming season that gets underway with January's running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"We've enjoyed a record-setting season, and we're ending with another record tonight - an all-time record attendance for our banquet," said Roger Edmondson, President of the Grand American Road Racing Association.
"Since the Daytona Prototype program began in 2003, we've never had a repeat champion," Edmondson said. "That shows how hard it is to win. To go so deep into the final race of the season, in both divisions, is an amazing accomplishment."
Edmondson said that all of the 2007 events would return for 2008, with the confirmed dates to be released Oct. 1. In addition, the Rolex Series will return to combined Daytona Prototype and GT events at most venues. The series is also exploring a Labor Day event at a new venue being built between New York City and Philadelphia.
Both champions received Rolex Daytona Chronograph watches, presented by Doug Meine, Executive Vice President of Rolex Watch USA. Both championship teams will also receive use of a Featherlite Luxury Coach for the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Gurney and Fogarty, co-drivers of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley, shared the Daytona Prototype driving championship after prevailing in a three-team battle that came down to Saturday's finale at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The pair won seven of the 14 events, winning the championship by two points over Scott Pruett.
"This is a special day for me, for sure," said Gurney. "I have been racing for 11 years, and this is my first championship. I would like to thank Bob Stallings for his support. I was rideless at the end of 2004, and he resurrected my career."
Gurney's parents, American racing legend Dan Gurney and his wife Evi, were special guests at the banquet.
The Bosch Championship Award was presented to Stallings and Horst Farnbacher, team owners of the respective Daytona Prototype and GT champions.
Pontiac won the Daytona Prototype Manufacturer Award, with Mark Kent accepting on behalf of General Motors. Bill Riley accepted the Daytona Prototype Constructor Championship. The Riley Mk XI chassis led every lap of the Rolex 24, won 13 of 14 Daytona Prototypes races and won all 14 DP poles.
Werner won the GT championship in another battle that came down to the wire. The driver of the Farnbacher Loles Porsche also was awarded the MESCO Building for the Future Rookie of the Year Award.
Porsche won the GT Class Manufacturer Award.
"Down the road, Porsche will increase our involvement in Grand-Am," Porsche Motorsports North America President Uwe Brettle said in accepting the award.
Grand-Am recognized the top Sportsman Drivers in both classes. Tracy Krohn won the Jim Trueman Award as the top independent driver in the Daytona Prototypes, while Emil Assentato was presented in absentia with the Bob Akin Award for the GT class.
Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche Crawford owner Alex Job won the SunTrust Improve Your Position Award for the Daytona Prototypes for greatest improvement from starting position by drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long. SunTrust representative David Pijot presented Job with a check for $12,000.
And Lally and R.J. Valentine earned the $10,000 SunTrust Improve Your Position Award for TRG owner Kevin Buckler in the GT class, winning the award in eight of the 13 GT races.
In balloting for the Rolex Moment of the Year, Michael Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson won for their first DP victory at Miller Motorsports Park in 2006.
The second- and third-place drivers and teams were recognized in both classes. Chip Ganassi owned the TELMEX Lexus Riley driven to second place in the Daytona Prototypes by Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who completed every lap of competition in 2007. Wayne Taylor's SunTrust Pontiac of Max Angelelli took third.
"Without a doubt for me, road racing in North America is Grand-Am," said Taylor, the 2005 champion.
In GT, Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins of Leighton Reese's Banner Pontiac team took second in both classes. The pair also won the Performance Energy Drink Award based on their performance in the three endurance races on the schedule.
The third-place driver in GT was Bryce Miller, who co-drive with Werner in all but one event this season for Farnbacher Loles. The third place team award went to Kevin Buckler's TRG Porsche, with drivers Andy Lally and RJ Valentine.
Looking ahead to 2008, Eddie Cheever Jr. announced he has acquired the license to manufacture the Fabcar chassis, which will be updated for next season. The 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula One veteran said he would announce an exciting driver lineup and business plan in the near future. He will return with the No. 39 Crown Royal Pontiac team.
Hurley Haywood is stepping aside as a regular driver for the Brumos Racing Porsche Riley team, and announced that Joao Barbosa will take his place alongside JC France in the No. 59 car. The five-time winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona will continue to drive for the team in the endurance races at Daytona International Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Miller Motorsports Park.
Gene Sigal, whose Luggage Express Sigalsport team won its first race in 2007 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, said he is looking to expand to a two-car effort for 2008. Steve Dinan-built BMW engines will continue to provide power for the team.
The next activity for the Rolex Series will be testing at Daytona International Speedway. The 2008 season officially gets underway with Jan. 4-6 Test Days at Daytona, leading up to the January 26-27 46th Running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Grand-Am PR