CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If excellence is the goal we all strive for, why is it that in motorsport we spend so much time trying to replace it with equality?
By its very nature, the idea of striving to be the best implies the kind of dedication that makes one more often tan not stand out from the crowd. Over the past several years that dedication has made Chip Ganassi’s Telmex Grand American Daytona Prototype team the standout in the Rolex Sports Car Series, much to the annoyance of not only Ganassi’s rivals, but seemingly to series officials bent on restoring the kind of close competition that once was a hallmark of the Rolex tour.
Earlier this spring, the Grand Am went so far as to offer a $25,000 bonus, or “bounty” for anyone able to the ongoing domination by Ganassi drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas whose BMW-Riley had steamrollered its opposition during the early rounds of the championship, continuing the trend which had brought the 2010 Rolex title.
Whether or not it was that bonus, or pride, or just a confluence of circumstances, Pruett and Rojas had lost three straight before coming to Road America this past Saturday for a shortened two-hour contest on the famed Wisconsin track. The question now was not whether or not they could be beaten, but whether or not they could regain their winning ways.
The answer was that they could, as the pair led the way home in an event that for its first hour was run behind the pace car because of an early accident that sent Gunter Schaldach’s Camaro over the fence and Joe Faster’s Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-7 headlong into the tire wall. Fortunately neither was seriously injured, although Foster was sent to the hospital for observation. However, repairs to the tire wall and to the fencing the field under the yellow for nearly 60 minutes.
Given that, pit strategy was the name of the game, with the Ganassi crew playing it just a bit better than the rest., In the end, Pruett, who had taken over during the full course caution, was able to keep the Gainsco Chevy powered Riley of Joe Fogarty and Alex Gurney at bay for the victory with the Chevrolet SunTrust Dallara of Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli, the winners of the two previous Rolex rounds, taking third.
And, if all the thinking among the DP set led to a bit of gambling on fuel mileage, that level of gambling was nothing when compared to the betting among the GT contenders. The beneficiary of all this turned out to the Marsh Racing Corvette of Eric Curran and John Heinricy which took its first production class triumph when the TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry of Spencer Pompelly ran out of gas just short of the finish line while in the lead on the final lap. Although disappointing for Pompelly and his co-driver Steven Bertheau, Pompelly coasted to the checkered flag for third behind the Team Sahlen Mazda RX7 of John Edwards and Will Nonnamaker who were second.
Thus, despite non-competitive hour of low-speed tour through the Wisconsin countryside, the Rolex contingent’s day at Road America turned out to be both interesting and, exciting. However, in some ways the excitement and interest were due to the circumstances of the race. And, it is this which leads back to the question of excellence.
In GT, where the regulations can be, and are often changed to keep a competitive balance among the players, close finishes will almost certainly continue to be the norm. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the Daytona Prototype camp.
There little can be done other than perhaps making Pruett and Rojas tow a trailer behind their Riley. Racing success has long been a result of packaging: the best drivers, the best car and the best crew combining together to form a more perfect union.
This is what is behind the excellence of the Ganassi organization, and it isn’t going away any time soon. So unless the others of the DP clan step up the efforts, we all will just have to get use to the “new era” Rolex series. Indeed, perhaps it would be easier to just rename it “The Chip Ganassi Tour.”