MONTEREY, Calif. – For Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, the Grand-Am Rolex Series Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda was a battle that enabled them to win the season-long war for the Rolex Series GT championship.
For Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia, Sunday’s race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca represented their Rolex Series-leading third Daytona Prototype victory of the season. And for Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker, the race allowed them to score a popular breakthrough GT race victory.
Segal and Assentato became the first Rolex Series champions of 2012 on Sunday, clinching the GT title with a second place performance in the No. 69 FXDD Ferrari 458. The driving duo was the only one to field the brand-new Ferrari for the full 2012 season, and eight top-three results from 12 starts –including three class victories – prove it was a good decision. It is the second GT title for Segal and Assentato, who also won the 2010 championship.
In addition to the drivers’ championship, Segal and Assentato brought AIM Autosport its first Rolex Series team championship and gave Ferrari its third Rolex Series manufacturers title.
“As of right now the championship is clinched, but it certainly hasn’t hit me yet,” Segal said. “It’s certainly a tremendous accomplishment for our team AIM Autosport in their first year back in GT. With Ferrari in its first year back, it’s just a tremendous day.”
While Segal and Assentato were taking care of business in GT, Westbrook and Garcia were putting the finishing touches on a magnificent weekend in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the opening 28 laps as different teams adopted different pit strategies.
In a race with only two full-course caution periods for eight laps and a race record 110 laps completed, the strategy chosen by Spirit of Daytona turned out to be a winner. Garcia – who drove the final hour of the two-hour and 45-minute race – claimed the lead from Alex Gurney for the final time when Gurney pitted for a splash-and-go with five laps remaining. He then cruised to a 3.878-second victory over Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Corvette DP.
“It’s great to be back at this historic track and to win,” said Garcia. “At some point I knew it would come to fuel strategy and with 30 minutes to go I was little scared. We were able to conserve tires all weekend which allowed me to push at the end.”
Making their 99th Rolex Series appearance, Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty earned their fourth podium result of the season with a second-place result.
Ryan Dalziel and Alex Tagliani finished third in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford/Riley, enabling Dalziel to close the gap in the DP point standings to 13 points behind co-leaders Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas – who finished sixth on Sunday – heading to the 2012 season finale at Lime Rock Park in three weeks.
However, post-race technical inspection revealed that the width of the No. 8 Ford/Riley was out of compliance. Any point penalties or fines as a result of that infraction will be announced later this week.
With two podium results already under their belts this season and a number of solid runs over the past few years, Cameron and Nonnamaker finally earned the elusive first victory in Rolex Series GT competition for long-time series competitors Team Sahlen.
They did it in much the same fashion as the DP race-winners, through a perfectly executed pit strategy. It was the team’s first Rolex Series victory since an SGS class win at Mid-Ohio in 2004.
The team has also earned victories in GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competition. Team Sahlen last month announced plans to move up to Daytona Prototypes in 2013.
“We’ve won in every class in Grand-Am that we’ve run in, so to get this win before we go on to prototypes is great,” said Nonnamaker. “It was a spot-on job for the team the whole race and a great job by Dane to bring it home.”
Segal and Assentato took second on the final lap when Johannes van Overbeek’s No. 03 Tequila Patrón Ferrari 458 ran out of fuel. John Potter and Andy Lally came home third in GT aboard the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3.