DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One former Grand-Am champion was knocked out of the Rolex 24 at Daytona less than an hour into the race, and another lost several laps a quarter of the way into the twice-around-the-clock event.
Max Angelelli took the No. 10 Chevrolet to the garage with an engine issue 25 minutes into the race. The team sent the car back out after a few minutes, but Angelelli was back in the garage for good moments later in the 50th running of the prestigious sports car event.
About five hours later, Alex Gurney took the No. 99 Chevrolet behind the wall after hitting something on the 3.56-mile road course and puncturing a hole in the radiator.
Gurney, a two-time series champion and two-time race champion along with co-driver Jon Fogarty, lost four laps during repairs. Their Gainsco Racing team is the one five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has driven for in recent years. Gurney, Fogarty and Johnson finished 15th last year.
Angelelli started second in the race that began Saturday afternoon. He and teammate Ricky Taylor will still earn points because Angelelli completed 30 minutes of racing, but it will leave them in a huge hole following Grand-Am’s season-opening race.
“We’ve never had an engine problem in all the time we’ve run the Chevrolet engine program, so this is the first time,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “There was truly nothing we were worried about. In fact, this is probably the one 24 Hour I think we all felt — the only thing we were worried about was traffic, and we didn’t have any issues. Really caught us by surprise.”
The engines are made by NASCAR’s Earnhardt Childress Racing organization. Taylor said the problem was in the valve train, and was “catastrophic.”
Angelelli and Wayne Taylor won the Grand-Am championship in 2005, and have finished second in the standings the last two seasons to the Chip Ganassi Racing team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. The SunTrust team also won the 24-hour race in 2005.
Ricky Taylor said it will be difficult for the SunTrust team to get back into the championship race because the Daytona Prototype class is so large in this race, adding that the last-place finish will hurt more than if it happened in another event.
“There’s 14 cars. It is hard to make up points,” he said. “The 24 Hour, we always have the most cars of any race, so we are losing more points than we can gain in any other single race. We’ll just have to go out there and pick up where we left off at the end of last season and just win a lot of races.”
The failure also cost IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe a shot at driving in the event.
“It is just tremendously disappointing,” Briscoe said. “The effort that everyone on the whole team put in and Wayne, Max, Ricky, the engineers, all the mechanics — this is a big race for this whole team and proud to be a part of it. Still am. Obviously it hurts right now not to have a shot at winning the 50th.”
The two cars from the Ganassi organization are expected, as always, to contend for the DP victory. An engine problem kept the Pruett and Rojas entry from qualifying, and Pruett started the race 13th in the field.
But he began picking off cars at the drop of the green flag, and had the No. 01 BMW Riley out front before his driving stint was over. Graham Rahal and Joey Hand are also part of that team.
Ganassi’s other car, the No. 02, has NASCAR drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, and IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, who started the race.
McMurray followed Dixon in the car, and had a slight incident on track with the No. 01 car when Rojas was driving his stint.
McMurray said he expected Rojas to give him more room on the track.
“I caught Memo, I was running a little bit quicker than he was, even outside traffic,” McMurray said. “I got beside him two or three times and I kind of expected him to let me go, and he didn’t. And then I got, I felt like a wheel in front of him going into the kink and thought, ‘Well, he’ll for sure let me go now.’ And he didn’t, so we came together through the kink. It is what it is.
“You don’t really expect anybody to give you something, but when it’s your teammate and it’s 20 hours to go, I kind of thought he would give me that. I guess I shouldn’t expect anything like that.”