Ganassi streak ends in record-setter, while Porsche also secures GT win
By Mike Harris, The Associated Press
Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Brumos Porsche team took the Rolex 24 on Sunday to end Chip Ganassi Racing’s Daytona winning streak at three races as David Donohue matched his late father’s victory here 40 years ago.
Donohue held on for the win after passing NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead just 41 minutes from the finish.
Donohue, who started from the pole in the Brumos Porsche Riley on Saturday afternoon, combined with former Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, Antonio Garcia and Darren Law to win the closest race in the 47-year history of 24-hour classic at Daytona International Speedway.
“We’re just a small part of what this team could do,” said a teary Donohue, whose biggest previous win was a class victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “I’m just glad I could carry the flag.”
Four of the sleek prototypes finished on the lead lap – the most ever – and the quartet spent most of the last two hours nearly nose-to-tail on the 3.56-mile road course that snakes through the infield and encompasses three-fourths of the 2Ѕ-mile NASCAR oval.
No more than two cars had ever finished on the lead lap before.
The winners completed 735 laps, a total of 2,616.6 miles.
Montoya replaced teammate Scott Pruett in the cockpit of the Ganassi Lexus Riley with about 2Ѕ hours and appeared to be in control after he took the lead during the 23rd hour.
A record 25 full-course cautions kept things close and the final yellow of the grueling race came out for debris with just over one hour to go. All four of the lead-lap cars took the opportunity to make their final pit stops.
Donohue, who was just 8 years old when his father, Mark Donohue, died after a testing accident in Formula One in 1975, jumped into the driver’s seat of the No. 58 car during the stop and somehow managed to stay right behind Montoya as they left the pits.
When the green flag waved with 53 minutes to go, Donohue went after the more experienced Montoya, nearly passing him several times over a period of several laps. They nearly bumping at least once before Donohue finally took advantage of slower GT class traffic to slip past the Lexus into the lead on lap 711.
Montoya, trying to give himself, Pruett and Memo Rojas their second straight victory here, chased Donohue to the finish but wound up just 0.167-seconds behind, a record, and only about four car-lengths. The fourth-place car was only 7.589 seconds off the pace and in sight of the winners.
The previous closest 1-2 finish was 30.879 seconds in 2000 when a Dodge Viper held off a Chevrolet Corvette.
Third was the winner’s sister car, a Porsche Riley co-driven by six-time Daytona winner Hurley Haywood, J.C. France, son of NASCAR board member Jim France, Joao Barbosa and Terry Borcheller, followed by the Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Pedro Lamy and Brad Frisselle.
The second Ganassi entry, co-driven by IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti – the fourth member of last year’s winning team – and Alex Lloyd, had problems in the early morning hours Sunday and wound up fifth, four laps behind the winners.
With Franchitti at the wheel, the brakes failed and the 2007 IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner was penalized a 30-second stop for driving past the chicane on the backstretch. After he gave up the seat to Dixon, the hood of the Lexus inexplicably flew off, costing the team more laps they were never able to regain.
Roger Penske, who owned the Porsche car in which Mark Donohue won the 1969 race, was back at Daytona and racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Series with a new Porsche Riley after winning the last two championships in the rival American Le Mans Series. The trio of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Ryan Briscoe led several times in the early going, but fell to sixth and finished 18 laps off the pace after having to replace a broken rear end Sunday morning.
“We thought we had everything covered pretty well, but you never know what’s going to jump up and bite you in this race,” Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said.
Jimmie Johnson, the three-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion whose team finished second here a year ago, had some bad luck early in the Pontiac Riley he shares with former CART champion Jimmy Vasser and Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. Johnson stopped Saturday night to have a broken taillight replaced and wound up having the gearbox replaced after he broke the transmission trying to get the car in gear. The team wound up seventh, 21 laps behind.
Prototypes finished in the top eight spots, with the Pontiac Crawford co-owned by NASCAR’s Richard Childress finished 33 laps behind with Cup regular Casey Mears, IndyCar’s Danica Patrick, three-time Daytona winner Andy Wallace and Rob Finlay share the cockpit.
With plenty of attrition, the leading GT class car, a Porsche GT3 driven by Jorg Bergmeister, Andy Lally, Patrick Long, R.J. Valentine and Justin Marks, was ninth overall, 40 laps behind the winners.