Pruett Leads Record Rolex Series Field Back to Mexico in Search of Repeat Victory

01.03.2007: Pruett Leads Record Rolex Series Field Back to Mexico in Search of Repeat Victory

Daytona Prototype points leader Scott Pruett will lead a record field of 38 cars to Mexico City's famed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Mexico City 400k (SPEED, Live, 4 p.m. ET).

Pruett, the 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion, leads the 2007 Daytona Prototype driver standings by virtue of his victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside co-drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Mexican rising star Salvador Duran.

With Montoya focusing on NASCAR competition and Duran involved in various other forms of international motorsport and not entered to compete this weekend, Pruett essentially stands alone atop the points table.

The Rolex 24 victory was the 13th overall triumph in Rolex Series competition for the Californian, tying him with James Weaver for most career overall victories. This weekend, Pruett will be joined in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley by his full-time co-driver for the remainder of the season, Mexican racer Memo Rojas. Last year in Mexico City, Pruett started from the pole position and combined with then-co-driver Luis Diaz to lead every lap in the race en route to a wildly popular victory.

A repeat this weekend, however, is anything but a certainty for Pruett, Rojas and the Ganassi team. Leading an extremely talented list of drivers with the potential to dethrone the No. 01 team are Italian racing standout Max Angelelli and Danish speedster Jan Magnussen in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley.

Angelelli and Magnussen combined with team owner Wayne Taylor and NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon to finish third in the Rolex 24 despite battling various mechanical issues for a goodly amount of the twice-around-the-clock event. Absent mechanical problems this weekend, Angelelli and Magnussen would be tough to beat.

Rolex 24 runners-up Patrick Carpentier and Milka Duno also cannot be overlooked in the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley. While Carpentier is considered a Rolex Series "rookie," the Canadian is no stranger to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez with three Champ Car starts at the historic circuit. He and Duno--a three-time winner in Rolex Series competition--could also prove to be a formidable combination.

On the heels of a fourth-place performance in the Rolex 24 and armed with a potent Porsche Riley combination, JC France and sports car racing legend Hurley Haywood also head south of the border looking to continue their momentum in the No. 59 Brumos Racing machine. Haywood is in his final season of full-time Rolex Series competition, while France was involved in a memorable altercation following an on-track incident with driver Chris Bingham in last year's visit to Mexico City. That being the case, a strong performance this weekend would be popular for several reasons.

The upstart AIM Autosport team--with youngsters Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle sharing the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold Lexus Riley--also looks to build more momentum following a fifth-place performance in the Rolex 24. Last year, Frisselle turned in a career-best second-place qualifying performance at Mexico City, proving he knows the quick way around the 2.5-mile road course. That could bode well for the No. 61 team, which is competing in just its third Rolex Series event this weekend.

While a top-five finish in the Rolex 24 was a great way to start the season for those teams mentioned previously, there are several other talented combinations that will undoubtedly play a role in the outcome of the Mexico City 400k. Certainly, one cannot look past Americans Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley.

Gurney started the Rolex 24 from the pole position, proving yet again that he and the No. 99 team are among the quickest in the Rolex Series. However, Gurney and Fogarty head to Mexico still looking for their first career Rolex Series victory after coming tantalizingly close on several occasions last season.

Another pairing that should be plenty fast this weekend and throughout the season is Patrick Long and 2006 Daytona Prototype champion Jörg Bergmeister in the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford. Like many others in the field, Long and Bergmeister will undoubtedly be front-runners if their No. 23 machine avoids mechanical pitfalls.

After picking up his first career Rolex Series podium result with a second-place run last year in Mexico City, 18-year-old Colin Braun and his new-for-2007 co-driver Max Papis will also be contenders in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley. Braun's runner-up result in Mexico last year set the tone for a wildly successful season that yielded him a pair of victories, while Papis is always strong behind the wheel of a Daytona Prototype as evidenced by the 2004 title he shared with Pruett.

Mexico-born Memo Gidley, the winner of the inaugural Rolex Series event at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, returns this weekend looking to recapture that glory alongside co-driver Jorge Goeters--who started the first-ever NASCAR Busch Series event in Mexico from the pole position--in the No. 77 Kodak/Star Motorsports Ford Doran for Feeds The Need/Doran Racing. It is the third different chassis and engine combination for Gidley in three events at Mexico City, as his victory in 2005 came in a BMW-powered Riley chassis and he co-drove a Ford Crawford in the event last year.

Finlay Motorsports, the team for which Gidley drove the past two seasons, also returns to the site of its first Rolex Series triumph this weekend with Canadian Michael Valiante and team owner Rob Finlay co-driving the No. 19 Z-Line/Mission Residence/Make-A-Wish Ford Crawford. Now in their second full season as co-drivers, Valiante and Finlay have the benefit of experience, which could translate to success this weekend.

Last year, both cars from Michael Shank Racing were extremely quick in pre-event practice sessions before crashes put the team behind the eight ball. If the team avoids a similar fate this weekend, look for both the No. 60 Lexus Riley in the hands of Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson and the No. 6 Lexus Riley with co-drivers Ian James and Henri Zogaib to be front-runners.

Zogaib, Patterson and Finlay head to Mexico looking to make up ground to owner/driver Tracy Krohn in the race for the 2007 Jim Trueman Award for the top sportsman driver in Daytona Prototypes. Krohn leads with 831 points, followed by Patterson with 732 points, Finlay with 416 and Zogaib with 271. Krohn will co-drive the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley this weekend with Nic Jönsson.

Completing the impressive driver lineups in Daytona Prototypes are Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens in the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley, David Donohue and Darren Law in the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley, Christian Fittipaldi, Harrison Brix and Eddie Cheever Jr. in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar, Bill Auberlen and Matthew Alhadeff in the No. 05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport BMW Riley and Shane Lewis and Randy Ruhlman in the No. 3 Preformed Line Products/Southard Motorsports Lexus Riley.

On-track activities get underway on Thursday, March 1 with the first of two Rolex Series practice sessions beginning at 1 p.m. CT. Friday will see the Rolex Series machines conduct its final pre-qualifying practice from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. with the 20-minute GT qualifying session slated to start at 11:10 a.m. and the Daytona Prototype qualifying session running from 11:40 a.m. to 12:00 Noon on Friday.

Saturday morning will feature a 20-minute morning warm-up session for the Rolex Series beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT and a 45-minute driver autograph session beginning at 11:00 a.m. The Mexico City 400k, Round 2 of the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, will take the green flag at 3:15 p.m. CT. The scheduled distance is 400 kilometers (100 laps) with a two-hour and 30-minute time limit.

SPEED will televise all of the action live from Mexico City beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET. Live coverage from throughout the weekend, including Live Timing & Scoring data and audio webcasts, will also be available via the official web site of Grand-Am, www.grand-am.com

- Garra -

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01.03.2007 / MaP

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