Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
Daytona Beach, FL- The Chip Ganassi Racing Team is recognized alongside the current IMSA Series and the Tudor United Sportscar Championship with their multiple race wins and titles in the former Grand Am Series. The team drove to Victory Lane in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona but not in their primary entry.
Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, and the man behind the wheel at the checkered flag, Scott Dixon, showed often-seen strength in Ganassi entries. The team qualified second and ran at or near the front most of the way.
From sunrise on Sunday both Ganassi cars, Wayne Taylor Racing, and Action Express seemed to be looking to settle the overall win among them.
Problems began to crop up with Ganassiâ€™s 01 driven by Sage Karam, Scott Pruett, Joey Hand, and Charlie Kimball. They ran in the top five and on the lead lap until late Sunday morning when Karam reported clutch problems. He pitted and turned the driving duties over to Joey Hand. Hand attempted to nurse the clutch to the finish but was soon in the garage for repairs. The crew tried to fix the mechanical troubles, however the machine was eventually retired from the event.
The Wayne Taylor Racing and Ganassi 02 cars put some distance on Action Express and the event appeared to be a two-car, classic Ford versus Chevrolet battle.
Dixon and Jordan Taylor ran nose-to-tail on the race track and pitted within laps of each other in the late hours.
A full course yellow waved with 20 minutes remaining in the race when Prototype Challenge leader Colin Braun crashed his Core Autosport car on the exit of the backstretch chicane and the ride caught on fire. Braun had spun earlier in the lap into the infield grass. Suspension failure was suspected of causing the incident.
Braun said, â€œThere was a slower DP car that was ahead of me, pretty off the pace through the kink, and I moved around the inside of him through the kink to pass him, and it sets me up to be on the outside of turn five. Iâ€™m not sure if he missed his braking mark or what, but I turned into the corner and the next thing I knew he pretty much squared me up into the right rear tire and that eventually I think broke our suspension. Got spun out, got in the grass, got back going and thought we could limp it back to the pits and then I think the suspension collapsed on the exit of the bus stop and obviously hit the wall pretty hard.â€
IMSA rules outlined in Saturdayâ€™s driverâ€™s meeting described how a caution period within 30 minutes of the end of the race would close the pits.
However the Taylor car was forced to pit with minutes remaining for a surprising driver change.
According to IMSA regulations, the driver currently behind the wheel and the planned teamâ€™s closer, Jordan Taylor was out of his allotted time.
â€œYou canâ€™t drive more than four hours in a six-hour period,â€ said Taylor. â€œI think we were creeping up on that. It was just a small miscalculation I think, and an unfortunate one. We were right where we wanted to be, second place on the restart. I think we had a stronger car on restarts on cold tires, so it was a perfect opportunity to make something happen.â€
â€œObviously when youâ€™re about to restart with 10 minutes to go youâ€™re not expecting to get out of the car,â€ Jordan Taylor said.
Jordan was replaced by his brother Ricky and both were disappointed with the situation.
Ricky Taylor said, â€œI was not happy to be back in the car. We knew it was going to come down to a little bit of fuel. Jordan is the best out of the three of us at doing that. Heâ€™s always been good at fuel mileage and maintaining a pace while saving fuel.â€
Said Ricky Taylor â€œWhen Max (Angelelli) got out of the car they (pit crew) were thinking about so many other things. Weâ€™d planned it (the finish) for hours and hours. The way the fuel stint worked it was just such a close callâ€¦ we were just so busy thinking about the last tire stop- two tires, no tires,- or what. It was nobodyâ€™s fault.â€
How close was Jordan to the limit? â€œI think it was five or ten minutes.â€
Dixon, who strongly paced the end of the race to the checkered flag, talked about their last-stint strategy. It did not include driver time limitations but car strength.
â€œYouâ€™re trying to work the race backwards to try to work out how many stops,â€ Dixon said. â€œHow many stops? Can we save any fuel for a few laps here and there to eliminate any stops? We knew we were already ahead of the 10 (Wayne Taylor Racing) as far as laps. I think we were going about three-four laps longer on the constant roll of (pit stop) sequences. Even if it came to a splash we would spend less time in the pits. You always try to work that and see if tires are going to come into that situation as well. The last two stints there is definitely a lot of chatter trying to figure out the best combination. We didnâ€™t double-stint the tire during the night or anything like that so it was a bit of an unknown for us with the last set of tires and running two stints on them.â€
Ganassi Racingâ€™s manager Mike Hull spoke about team strategy and he did calculate driver hours.
â€We short-stinted the guys in the 01 and long-stinted the guys in the 02 car,â€ Hull said. â€œWe thought there very well could be strategies at the eight-hour mark, the 10-hour mark, the 12-hour mark, and so on. Itâ€™s how your drivers match up to their drivers, and you follow along very carefully what the other teams are doing and who theyâ€™re putting on the racetrack and who your people are going to match up against. We were watching how our people matched up against their people.â€
Ganassi Racing will not chase the IMSA Championship with their 02 entry but the team showed championship form in winning the Rolex 24.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT on www.racersreunionradio.com
â€¢ The Action Express car of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, and Sebastian Bourdais came home second. The Taylor racing group rounded out the podium.
â€¢ The Spirit of Daytona finished fourth with Michael Valiente, Guy Cosmo, Richard Westbrook, and Mike Rockenfeller driving.
â€¢ Wayne Taylor Racing has two second-place finishes and a third in the last three years.
â€¢ Jamie McMurray joins A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to have won the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.
â€¢ Michael Shank Racingâ€™s pole-winning Honda driven by John Pew, Ozz Negri, A.J. Allmendinger, and Matt McMurry was also a top-five contender until suspension trouble forced the team to the garage area late on Sunday morning. The car stopped on-track within the final 30 minutes with McMurry on board and was scored 11th in the final rundown.
â€¢ Ganassi Racing now has six Rolex 24 wins in 12 years.
â€¢ The Prototype Challenge class was won by Tom Kimber-Smith, Michael Guasch, Andrew Novich, and Andrew Palmer driving for Core Autosport. The group overcame power steering problems for their win.
â€œWe lost power steering and were fighting the car all of the way,â€ said Kimber-Smith. Guasch said â€œWe got less unlucky than othersâ€ in describing the typical 24 hour race mechanical challenges. Novich said â€œWe had to nurse the poor little car home.â€
â€¢ Corvette Racing won the Grand Touring Lemans class and placed fifth overall with Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Indycar driver Ryan Briscoe sharing driving duties. Garcia said, â€œThe car is in perfect shape. Not a single touch,â€ after 24 hours of racing competition.
â€¢ The Grand Touring Daytona class was won Dominik Farnbacher, Ben Keating, Cameron Lawrence, and Kuno Wittmer in a Dodge Viper. Keating was emotional and slightly choked up during the post-race press conference. His emotion carried over to the other drivers and was somewhat reflective and subdued as they spoke to the media.