Ganassi car gets into trouble; team goes for third win | india | Hindustan Times
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Ganassi car gets into trouble; team goes for third win

india Updated: Jan 27, 2008 21:37 IST

AP
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The Porsche Crawford of three-time race winner Andy Wallace, Joey Hand, Patrick Long and Bill Auberlen grabbed the lead in the sixth hour of one of the most competitive races in the history of the Rolex 24-Hour sports car endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

Hand was at the wheel of the Daytona Prototype when it moved to the front on Saturday, the 12th lead change in a race that has never had more than 15 lead changes in the entire 24 hours. Just seconds behind after the first quarter of the grueling race, was the Ford Riley of Mark Wilkens, Andrew Ranger, Colin Braun and Brian Frisselle, with the Pontiac Riley of former Formula One driver Riccardo Zonta, Nic Jonsson and Darren Turner close behind. In fact, eight cars _ all prototypes _ were on the lead lap, with four more just a lap down.

Two-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, teamed with former CART champion Jimmy Vasser and defending Rolex Grand-Am Series champions Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, was in fourth place after taking his first stint in the team's Pontiac Riley prototype. "I had a great experience out there," Johnson said. "We have a great car and we're just really trying to stick to our rhythm. I tried not to put the car into any bad situations." Chip Ganassi Racing, going for an unprecedented third straight Daytona victory, had the Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya, part of last year's winning team, and Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas running fifth.

But teammates Salvador Duran, the Mexican driver who was also part of the winning team in 2007, former IndyCar champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon and IRL rookie Alex Lloyd, were far back in the back despite Duran posting the fastest lap of the race. After running off course and damaging the car in Thursday's practice on the 3.5-mile (5.7-kilometer) road circuit, Duran did it again on Saturday, 4{ hours into the twice-around-the-clock event. This time, Duran's brakes failed as his Lexus Riley Daytona Prototype came upon a pair of the slower-moving GT class cars. He went into the grass to avoid a collision and, bouncing across the uneven surface, tore the front bodyworks from the car and sent him to the garage for about 20 minutes.

Duran was back in the car when it resumed racing, 12 laps behind the leaders in 25th place. But the fast car quickly began chopping into its deficit and was 10 laps back in 17th place by the end of the sixth hour.

Kurt Busch, another NASCAR champion teamed with IndyCar star Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe in a Pontiac Riley, was sixth at six hours.

Rain fell sporadically during prerace activities and the two Ganassi entries were among 10 prototype cars that changed from rain tires to racing slicks during the pace lap. All of those cars had to start the race from the pits and then work their way through heavy traffic in the early going.

It didn't take them long to get back among the leaders. "I've been having a little problem locking up the front, so I had to do a couple of pit stops because we're being overly cautious," Pruett explained. "But our car is running well otherwise. I just need to find that fine line between carrying good speed and avoiding locking it up."

A.J. Allmendinger, another 2007 NASCAR rookie, started in his team's Ford Riley, passing Michael Shank Racing teammate and pole-winner Oswaldo Negri Jr. at the start to take the lead. He was just one of the leaders in the early going as the 66-car field, including 41 of the slower GT class cars, remained tightly bunched and there were a series of full-course caution flags. "With the rain and everything, overall, I think we need to find a little more grip out there," Allmendinger said. "It's very slippery. A lot of guys are going off out there." Asked about the traffic, Allmendinger made a face and said, "It's brutal. It's so bad out there right now, it's a struggle. "It's worse than I remember in past years. We were catching GT cars in groups of 10 out there, and I don't remember that happening before."

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