Pontiac Sweeps GT Championships With GTO.R

03.09.2006: Pontiac Sweeps GT Championships With GTO.R

No. 65 TRG/F1 Air GTO.R Takes GT-class Championships With Win at Miller Motorsports Park; No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford Takes Third Among Daytona Prototypes

Pontiac wrapped up the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series on a high note, winning manufacturers, team and driver championships in the GT class with their production-based GTO.Rs. Although the No. 65 TRG/F1 Air GTO.R of Andy Lally, Marc Bunting and Spencer Pumpelly only needed a fourth place finish to clinch the team and driver championships for Bunting and Lally, the trio managed to win the Discount Tire Sunchaser nine-hour race, the season finale. In the Daytona Prototype (DP) class, Pontiac's third-place finish by Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger of the No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford added another podium finish to the brand's list of achievements and cemented Pontiac in second in the manufacturers standings.

Andy Lally brought home the No. 65 GTO.R ahead of title contenders Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell; driving skill, a good car and a bit of luck helped the TRG team in the end. The No. 72 Porsche of Henzler and Liddell led a substantial amount of the race but on lap 143 the Porsche pitted to serve a stop-and-go penalty and also to service the brakes. This allowed the No. 65 car to take the lead and hold it for the remainder of the race.

"It was nerve-wracking out there," said Lally. "The end of the race was pitch-black and I kept thinking there were vibrations coming from the car. It was all in my head and I kept telling myself that. But then I stood on the brakes and it pulled to the right. From then on I babied it as much as I could and we were able to bring it home for the championships. This is awesome - after almost winning drivers championships last year this is exactly how we wanted to end the season."

The No. 05 Sigalsport GTO.R run in conjunction with Pacific Coast Motorsports also ended the season with good results - the trio of Tommy Kendall, Gene Sigal and Peter MacLeod rounded out the podium in third place. Their strong performance while running part-time was a major contribution to Pontiac's eight wins, six second-place finishes and six third-place finishes in GT.

"Third feels great for a guy that's been out of it for a while," said Kendall, who retired from full-time racing in 1997. "My team did a fantastic job. Gene had to drive with the sun in his eyes at about 8 pm. Killer pace all day long - I'm happy to end the season on a good note and get this podium for Pontiac. I hope to be back in this car next year."

Pontiac's No. 64 TRG/iRise GTO.R of Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Kris Wilson finished ninth after starting the race late (eight laps in) after power steering pump problems. The drivers managed to battle their way up despite power steering issues for the first half of the race, a testament to their skill and determination. Collins and Edwards finished the season third in driver points.

In the DP class, an intense battle (in the dark) developed at the end of the grueling race. After running in second-place on-and-off for about 50 laps starting at lap 104, Andy Wallace pitted at lap 166 and Butch Leitzinger got in. Leitzinger then moved the car up from sixth to fourth by lap 172. He passed Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Lexus with two laps to go and crossed the finish line two tenths of a second behind second-place finisher Michael McDowell of the No. 19 Ford Crawford. Oswaldo Negri won the race in the No. 60 Lexus Riley, clinching the manufacturers championship for Lexus.

"That last lap we were just nose to tail," said Leitzinger. "They (Negri and McDowell) ran an excellent race; they protected very well. It was one of those things where you wish there was a few more minutes to the race - I may have had luck. But then again, nine hours was enough."

The Daytona Prototype team championship was won by the No. 01 Lexus Riley team (finished fourth) and the driver championship was taken by Jörg Bergmeister of Ford (finished sixth). Driver championship hopeful (and defending DP driver co-champion) Max Angelelli finished fourth in the driver standings and his team SunTrust Racing third after spark-plug wire issues relegated him and teammates Wayne Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay to a 14th-place finish.

"Everything was going good and I was feeling good," said Hunter-Reay of his time in the car before the spark plug problems. "All of the sudden it just picked up a huge vibration with the motor misfire and I could feel it backfiring down the straights and I couldn't get top gear. We just slowly and surely sunk into the field."

"It's too bad for SunTrust racing," added owner Taylor. "We really wanted to win this team championship for them and for Pontiac, who stepped up so much with us. It's tough, but we can learn from this one and go on to the biggest race which is Daytona (next year)."

The GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing team was the other Pontiac-powered Daytona Prototype in the top 10; the team managed to climb back up to ninth place after a trip to the garage in lap 30 for a leaky gearbox cost them three laps.

"We're incredibly proud of all our teams, both DP and GT, and want to thank them for their efforts this season," said Jim Lutz, program manager for Pontiac's Rolex Series efforts. "This race was one of the tougher ones this season and to end the year with such success here makes all of the hard work our teams and GM engineers put in worthwhile. On behalf of GM Racing, I congratulate the champions - both our teams and our opponents."

DP provisional results

1 60 Lexus Riley Patterson/Negri
2 19 Ford Crawford Gidley/McDowell/Cosmo
3 4 Pontiac Crawford Wallace/Leitzinger
4 01 Lexus Riley Pruett/Diaz
5 6 Lexus Riley Bu. Frisselle/Br. Frisselle/Borkowski
6 76 Ford Riley Bergmeister/Braun/Jonsson
7 58 Porsche Riley Donohue/Law/Rice
8 77 Ford Doran Jourdain/Brix/Servia
9 99 Pontiac Crawford Gurney/Fogarty/Vasser
10 23 Porsche Crawford Rockenfeller/Kelleners/Borcheller

GT provisional results

1 65 Pontiac GTO.R Lally/Bunting/Pumpelly
2 72 Porsche GT3 Cup Henzler/Liddell/Davis
3 05 Pontiac GTO.R Kendall/Sigal/MacLeod
4 17 Porsche GT3 Cup Lacey/Wilkins/Bell
5 74 Porsche GT3 Cup James/Tafel/Lux
6 81 Porsche GT3 Cup Nearn/Johnson/Russell
7 21 BMW M3 Povoledo/Workman/O'Shaughnessey
8 64 Pontiac GTO.R Edwards/Collins/Wilson
9 66 Porsche GT3 Cup Pace/Lowe/Valentine
10 56 Corvette Beachman/Fitgerald/Salama

- Steve Smith -

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03.09.2006 / MaP

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