GRAND-AM News And Notes: Montreal 200

Fast Facts:
Rolex Sports Car Series

The Race:
Montreal 200
The Place:
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Track:
2.709-mile temporary road course
The Date/Time:
Saturday, 11:15 a.m. ET
The Race Length:
2 hours
TV: SPEED (7 p.m. ET)
Radio: MRN Radio

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Magical Season Has Established Starworks Among Elite

For the past five seasons, four teams have dominated Daytona Prototype competition. TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, SunTrust Racing and Action Express (Brumos) Racing have finished in the top three in the final DP standings since 2007.

Starworks Motorsport joined that elite group in 2012. The team captured the inaugural North American Endurance Championship presented by, and with back-to-back victories at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen, Starworks is now pressuring for both the driver and team titles.

“I think the new powerhouse in the Rolex Series is Starworks,” Ryan Dalziel said after winning Saturday’s Continental Tire 200 at Watkins Glen. “The guys have worked their hearts out for two years to get themselves in this position.”

With three races remaining in the season, the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley leads the team standings, only six points ahead of the No. 8 Starworks Ford/Riley (295-289). The No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP is third with 268 points, only five points ahead of the No. 2 Starworks Ford/Riley.

On the driver side, Dalziel trails Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas by six points (295-289), with Indianapolis winner Alex Popow fourth with 274 points.

“I’m very happy for the team,” said Popow, lead driver on the Starworks’ No. 2. “I am going to keep fighting for the championship. I’m a little bit behind right now, but I think Ryan will have a good battle with Scott and Memo.”

Welcome Home: Canadians Tracy, Tagliani Secure DP Rides

Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani, two of Canada’s top open-wheel racers, have landed rides with Daytona Prototype teams for Saturday’s Montreal 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Tracy will join David Donohue with Action Express Racing in the No. 5 Corvette DP. While this is Tracy’s first drive for Action Express, he has competed in four Rolex Series races for Doran Racing this season, with his best finish sixth at Indianapolis. He was the 2003 Champ Car titlist with 30 victories in major open-wheel competition, and runner-up in the 2002 Indianapolis 500.

Tagliani will join Starworks Motorsport, which is coming off a 1-2 finish at Watkins Glen International. It will be a unique race for Tagliani who will start the No. 8 Ford/Riley for Ryan Dalziel, before swapping rides and finishing the race for co-driver Lucas Luhr in the No. 2 Ford/Riley. This will be Tagliani’s first race in a DP who competed in five GT races in 2006. Tagliani has competed at the highest levels of American open-wheel racing since 2000, with one victory and seven pole position in 186 starts.

Michael Valiante of British Columbia will return to the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP that he and Richard Westbrook drove to victory earlier this season at Mid-Ohio.

Canadians competing in GT include Watkins Glen winner Paul Dalla Lana of Toronto, who joins Billy Johnson in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3; Scott Maxwell of Toronto, co-driving Dempsey Racing’s No. 40 Mazda RX-8 with Tom Long; and Montreal native Sylvain Tremblay, co-driving the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 with Jonathan Bomarito.

Points Leaders Pruett, Rojas Have Had Mixed Results At Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

With its lead in the Daytona Prototype standings cut to six points, Saturday’s Montreal 200 may play a key role for TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in its battle for a third consecutive Daytona Prototype title – and fourth in five seasons.

Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2010 in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley, but finished 10th in 2009, and fifth in 2007, 2008 and 2011.

“It seems we’re always either on or off at Montreal,” Pruett said. “We’ve won and finished third there, but other times we’ve struggled to be in the top five – like last year. It’s going to be critical for us to be “on” when we go back there. The last three races will really be critical for us – but that’s true for all of us in the battle for the championship.”

In last year’s race Rojas sustained minor bodywork damage early in the event. The fifth-place finish marked only the second time in 2011 that they did not finish first or second.

While the “Ganassi Gang” won five races and finished second five times in 2011 – and won nine races en route to the 2010 title – the current season saw the team only win one race, at Road America, in addition to finishing second three times.
Pruett and Rojas will also be looking to score the 150th career victory for Chip Ganassi Racing’s combined efforts in GRAND-AM, NASCAR and major open-wheel racing in Saturday’s event.

Team Sahlen To Move To Daytona Prototype Ranks With Pair Of BMW/Rileys In 2013

After racing in the Rolex Series GT division since 2005, Team Sahlen will step up to the Daytona Prototype ranks in 2013 with a pair of BMW-powered Rileys.

Dane Cameron will co-drive the team’s No. 42 with Wayne Nonnamaker, while Joe Sahlen, Joe Nonnamaker and Will Nonnamaker will share the No. 43.

The team currently races three Mazda RX-8s, and is battling to land two of its cars in the top 10 of the GT team standings. The No. 42 is currently seventh in the points, with a best finish a second at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The No. 43 is 11th, trailing 10th place by only three points.

“Whatever we do, we want to do at the highest level – whether it’s our meat products, our soccer team or our sports park,” said team owner Sahlen. “We took a look at the dynamics of GRAND-AM from top to bottom, and now, we’re set to compete in GRAND-AM’s highest exposure level.”

First-Turn Incident For Ferrari Team Tightens GT, Manufacturer Points Battles After Glen

An incident in the first turn on the first lap of Saturday’s Continental Tire 200 at Watkins Glen involved the top two teams in the Rolex Series GT standings. Emil Assentato’s No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia bumped the No. 57 Stevenson Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro of John Edwards, sending both cars spinning.

While Edwards and Robin Liddell struggled to finish 14th, Assentato and Jeff Segal fought back to finish seventh in the race won by Paul Dalla Lana and Bill Auberlen in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW. As a result, Liddell fell to fourth in the point standings, 33 points behind the Ferrari teammates. Dalla Lana closed to second, 16 points behind Segal and Assentato (300-284).

“I think we definitely made the best of a bad situation,” said Segal, who entered the race with a 26-point lead. “It is pretty unbelievable that we managed to get out of here with seventh place after going a two or three laps down. It’s not ideal, especially with the No. 94 winning. They are right behind us in the points now.”

The Glen result also tightened the GT manufacturer standings. Ferrari’s lead has been cut to seven points over Chevrolet (303-296), followed by Porsche (290), Mazda (289) and BMW (284).

Ford scored a 1-2 finish at the Glen to cut Chevrolet’s lead to 14 points in the Daytona Prototype manufacturer standings (322-309). BMW finished third and now has 298 points.

Rolex Series, Etc.

* The winningest driver at Montreal is Robin Liddell. He has won three of the five GRAND-AM events (2008, 2009, 2011), all with Stevenson Motorsports.

* Jon Fogarty knows how to get around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The driver of the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP has qualified on the pole for four of the five races in Montreal. In last year’s event Fogarty and co-driver Alex Gurney were able to win from the pole position with Gurney leading the final 28 laps of the event.

Johnson Set To Race Two Watkins Glen-Winning Cars At Montreal

Billy Johnson will be doing double duty at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend. The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge regular in the No. 61 Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302R will drive a pair of cars that won last weekend at Watkins Glen International.

Johnson will sub for Bill Auberlen in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, joining Canadian Paul Dalla Lana – who took over second place in the GT point standings with the victory at Watkins Glen. Johnson then drives in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, at the wheel of Carl Edwards’ winning Ford Mustang from the Zippo 200.

Johnson won’t be looking over his shoulder as he prepares to drive the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing 25 Winning Years Ford Mustang in Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge.

“Last year I practiced and qualified this car, and I was all set to race when Carl Edwards showed up only five minutes before the start,” Johnson said. “This year, it’s definitely all me in the car.”

Johnson is hoping that the third time will be a charm in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. He raced for Roush at Watkins Glen in 2010, but was taken out in an early race incident. Last year, he qualified fourth at Road America but finished 33rd after going out with engine problems.

Obviously, there isn’t much comparison between the No. 61 Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302R that Johnson co-drives with Jack Roush Jr. in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the NASCAR Nationwide Series Mustang. But there are comparisons.

“People don’t expect to hear this, but the NASCAR race car weighs as much as a GS car,” Johnson said. “Speed-wise, it’s comparable to a Rolex Series GT car, but they do it in different ways. The NASCAR car is not as good on the brakes or in the slow-speed stuff.”

Car owner Jack Roush – father of the CTSCC driver – is happy to have Johnson in the car.

“Billy really helped (NASCAR Nationwide Series title contender) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with his racecraft in a recent test at Miller,” Roush said. “We’ll have him in the car at Montreal to help the Ford effort while helping Ricky. Billy has good speed, good judgment and his feedback makes sense. I look forward to working more with him.”

Curran Again Eyes Double-Duty Schedule During CTSCC Off Week

Eric Curran will return to double duty this weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. He will return to the No. 53 Whelen/Michael J. Fox Foundation Dodge in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition in addition to racing the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette in the Rolex Series Montreal 200.

Curran drove both cars last weekend at Watkins Glen, with very different results. He struggled with overheating early in Saturday’s Zippo 200. Returning to action, he parked the Nationwide Series car after 18 laps with a misfire. Curran then joined Boris Said in finishing second in the Continental Tire 200, the team’s best finish of the 2012 Rolex Series GT season.

Joining Curran in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race is Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge regular Ryan Ellis. Ellis failed to qualify for last weekend’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen.

“We plan on using the experience and knowledge we gained last weekend to create a more successful weekend in Montreal in which we are really pushing to get a good finish for the No. 52 Best Restaurants in Town Jimmy Means Racing Chevrolet,” Ellis said. “I am extremely excited for this upcoming opportunity to race at Montreal.

Winless In 2012, GAINSCO Looks To Repeat In Montreal 200

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is still looking to put its new “Red Dragon” Corvette DP in victory lane. This weekend’s Montreal 200 may be the team’s best opportunity, with Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney looking to repeat their 2011 triumph.

“The ‘Red Dragon’ always seems to have great pace at Montreal and it felt great to finally capitalize on that and turn it into a victory,” Fogarty said of winning last year’s race – the 15th DP victory for the team. “Winning on a Formula One circuit is special, but winning at a place that has eluded us so many times is much sweeter.”

Victories have eluded GAINSCO so far in 2012 but the return to Montreal could be just what the No. 99 squad needs to end the season on a high note. The team has endured every type of setback racing can throw at you this season, including mechanical failures, being taken out in accidents, in-race issues and, most recently, a race car that was just a tick off the pace in last Saturday’s Continental Tire 200 at Watkins Glen.

“We have been competitive pretty much everywhere this year, certainly in the last five or six races besides The Glen last weekend, and I don’t know why it would be any different at Montreal,” Gurney said. “We had a really good race last year, we felt like we arrived at a place setup wise that should be pretty good.”

Fogarty will be looking for his fourth consecutive pole position, and fifth in six years of Rolex Series competition at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve since 2007.

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