Pontiac Closes In On Titles Going Into Season Finale Miller Motorsports Park

01.09.2006: Pontiac Closes In On Titles Going Into Season Finale Miller Motorsports Park

Pontiac Teams and Drivers Stand Chances of Winning Five of Six Rolex Series Championships for the Brand

The 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve season now moves to the final round held at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah on Saturday and Pontiac teams and drivers have opportunities to take five of six championships. With Pontiac's second-place Daytona Prototype (DP) and GT finishes at Infineon Raceway last weekend, the brand has a good chance at taking manufacturer and driver championships in both classes and a team championship in the GT class. In the GT class, Pontiac must ensure that one of its GTO.Rs cross the finish line to clinch the manufacturers championship. In the DP class, obtaining the manufacturers title may be slightly more difficult: a Pontiac DP must finish either in first place or two positions ahead of any Lexus-powered race car. Adding to the challenge is a 4.5-mile road course which is new to most Rolex Series drivers, not to mention a grueling, nine-hour affair in the desert heat.

"The Discount Tire Sunchaser will be a very difficult race," said Jim Lutz, program manager for Pontiac's Rolex Series effort. "With an endurance race, anything can happen and the more time that goes by in a race, the better the chances of attrition by mechanical failure. Fortunately for our teams, our equipment has a history of holding up and we're counting on our engines to get us through this race. We need to finish ahead of the Lexus DPs - the titles are at stake."

Pontiac is looking for its first GT manufacturers championship and after the Sonoma 250 last weekend, its lead has narrowed to 21 points. Still, the probability of Pontiac winning the GT title is high: the only way the closest rival could take the championship from Pontiac is if none of the GTO.Rs finish the race. While nothing can be taken for granted, the GTO.Rs' consistently strong results including 18 consecutive podium finishes (a streak which began soon after the cars' debut last season), indicates high chances of the #64 TRG/iRise GTO.R, the #65 TRG/F1 Air GTO.R or the #05 Sigalsport GTO.R doing just that.

Andy Lally and Marc Bunting of the #65 GTO.R also stand to win championships of their own: the pair - joined by Spencer Pumpelly for this event - have led in team and driver points for the majority of the season and still lead both categories by eight points. A good finish here at Miller is also crucial for the duo; they won the GT team championship last season but missed the driver titles by one point.

"I'm not sure if I can emphasize how badly we want to beat these guys (Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell); I'd say anyone familiar with the Rolex Series would know," said Lally, who, with Bunting, finished second at Infineon Raceway to Henzler and Liddell last weekend. "After getting punted off the track last year by David Murry in the final race and missing the championship by a single point, my motivation to win a GT title is greater than it has ever been. Wolf and Robin will be tough to beat but having battled them many times this year, I think that when it comes down to it they will race us fairly and cleanly."

Between the #65 car, the #64 GTO.R of Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins - and for this race Kris Wilson - and the #05 (formerly #98 PCM) Sigalsport GTO.R now driven by Tommy Kendall, Gene Sigal and Peter MacLeod, the three production-based machines have now seven wins, 11 additional podium finishes and a podium sweep for 2006.

In the Daytona Prototype class, Max Angelelli will fight for a second-straight driver championship while assisting Pontiac with its goal of a third-consecutive manufacturers championship. He now trails leader Jörg Bergmeister by 23 points and is still in contention for the title and Pontiac is behind Lexus by only two points in the manufacturers standings. Angelelli will drive with team owner and last year's defending co-champion Wayne Taylor with Champ Car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay rounding out the trio. This is Hunter-Reay's first time in a Daytona Prototype but Taylor is confident the 25-year-old driver will get used to the car in a very short time.

"Miller is a very technical circuit, with 24 corners in all," said Taylor. "We're going to give the car to Ryan on that first day of practice so that he can acclimate himself quickly. Good, fast race car drivers can get in anything and be consistently fast. That's Ryan. He's always shown to be a quick study, on and off the track. He's smart and extremely professional - a perfect fit for our organization."

Most Pontiac teams are taking on a third driver for the nine-hour endurance race: coming off a third-place finish at Infineon Raceway are Mario Haberfeld and Adrian Fernandez of the No. 12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley. This is the team's second podium of the season (the other was a win at Mid-Ohio) and they are retaining the services of Indy Racing League driver Vitor Meira. Stefan Johansson and Marc Goossens will team with Milka Duno in the No. 11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Pontiac Riley and Randy Ruhlman, Ken Wilden and Paul Dallenbach join forces in the No. 40 Preformed Line Products Pontiac Riley. The GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing team is no exception: Jimmy Vasser will again drive with Alex Gurney and John Fogarty in the red #99 Pontiac Riley.

The choice of the additional pilot hasn't always gone according to plan, however. Champ Car title contender A.J. Allmendinger was slated to drive the #89 Playboy/Vonage/Palms Pontiac Riley with Ryan Dalziel and Alex Figge but the team has recently announced that Allmendinger's schedule will not allow that to happen. Instead, Canada's David Empringham, who piloted the #98 GTO.R earlier in the season, will join Dalziel and Figge.

Howard-Boss Motorsports, the team of Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger of the No. 4 BOSS Snowplow Pontiac Crawford, had also intended to use a third driver. Road racing legend Jan Lammers was scheduled to drive with Wallace and Leitzinger - who took second place at Infineon last weekend - but now has a test session he can't forgo. Although the team would very much like to have Lammers there, Wallace and Leitzinger have both had the privilege of competing at Miller Motorsports Park several months ago and feel they can go at it without a third driver.

"Having a race under our belts there should really help Butch and me," said Wallace. "I would hate to come to this track for the final race of the season never having seen or driven on this course. It's that tough. The Miller Motorsports Park is a difficult course to learn. It's fast with really quick corners. It also has a long straight where you'll see lots of passing. The track is basically 'featureless', so intense concentration at all times is a must.

"With the momentum that we've got coming off our performance at Infineon, our BOSS Snowplow Pontiac Crawford team really has high hopes to end our season with a bang!"

The 15th and final leg of the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series season, the Discount Tire Sunchaser, is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12 p.m. MDT. Parts of the race will be broadcast live on SPEED TV: the first part will be shown at 2:00 p.m. EDT and the conclusion at 6:00 p.m. EDT.

:

- Steve Smith, GM -

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01.09.2006 / MaP

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