Photo courtesy of IMSA

Rolex 24: Action Express hang on for victory, Ganassi gets 200th win

Leave a comment

Although the finish of the 56th running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona did not produce the same no-holds-barred fight we’ve seen in recent years, there was plenty of drama as overall and class leaders battled either mechanical problems or varying fuel strategies that kept the results uncertain right to the very end.

But, at the checkered flag, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi for Action Express, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, and the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 all claimed victories.

For Action Express, it is their third overall victory at the Rolex 24, while Ford Chip Ganassi Racing claimed its second consecutive GT Le Mans crown and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his 200th win as a team owner across all of his racing organizations. Meanwhile, GRT Grasser Racing Team took its maiden class victory, taking home GT Daytona honors.

Below are quick reports on all three classes:

Prototype

The final hours of the Rolex 24 were incredibly tense as Action Express Racing continued to battle overheating problems, notably on their leading No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. In the hands of Filipe Albuquerque, the team asked him to back off considerably, at times shutting the car off on the banking while running lap times anywhere from three to six seconds slower than its closest challengers.

As a result, both the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, in the hands of Stuart Middleton, and the No. 54 CORE Autosport Oreca 07 Gibson, in the hands of Colin Braun, decreased the gap dramatically, with both Middleton and Braun even getting back on the lead lap in the final minutes.

However, Albuquerque was able to nurse the car home to take the win and avenge last year’s disappointment, when the team ended up second after late contact with Ricky Taylor.

Albuquerque was joined in Victory Lane by co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, and also gives Action Express its third win at the Rolex 24.

The No. 31 experienced drama of its own, with Middleton needing to get back in the car near the end of the race to meet his minimum drive time quota. The team thought he had met the minimum, but IMSA officials informed team officials that Middleton was just short, forcing them to call an audible and put Middleton back in the car.

Despite being the youngest and least experienced driver of the lineup, Middleton ran a clean race to the checkered flag to finish second with co-drivers Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, and Eric Curran.

Colin Braun managed to finish third, with co-drivers Jon Bennet, Romain Dumas, and Loic Duval.

GTLM

A dominant performance by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing produced a 1-2 finish for the team that spent nearly the entire race in the GTLM lead.

After trading the lead back and forth several times between them, it was the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and Scott Dixon taking the victory over the No. 66 of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastien Bourdais.

It is the second consecutive team victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, with the No. 66 team taking the win last year. It is also the 200th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization and their eighth Rolex 24 victory (six in Prototype, two in GTLM).

The No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R finished third with Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller.

GTD

A closely fought battle that saw three marques and four teams fight tooth and nail in the final hours saw GRT Grasser Racing Team bring home the GTD victory with Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera, and Rik Breuker.

Bortolotti held the the lead for GRT Grasser in the waning minutes and appeared to face a challenge from Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, but a late stop for fuel put an end to their chances for victory.

The win gives Lamborghini its first ever class win at the Rolex 24, and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was consistently one of quickest cars going back to the Roar Before the 24 test on the first weekend of January.

The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 finished second with Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge, AJ Allmendinger, and Trent Hindman.

Third went to the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini, with Andrea Caldarelli, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Bryce Miller.

The race, which featured only four full-course cautions, also shattered the records for total laps and total distance covered. The winning No. 5 Action Express Cadillac covered 808 laps and over 3,070 miles, shattering the previous records of 762 laps 2,760 miles

 

Full results

Follow@KyleMLavigne

INDYCAR’S contract at Laguna Seca not affected by new track management

INDYCAR Photo
Leave a comment

INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that INDYCAR’s season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway in Monterey, California is not in any type of jeopardy after Monterey County officials sought a new management company for the Laguna Seca facility.

After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) was advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods last month. The email said, “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

At a November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, a proposal centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.  The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to have a management group led by Monterey businessman John Narigi take over for SCRAMP.

The NTT IndyCar Series returned to Laguna Seca in September for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. It was the first time IndyCar had competed at Laguna Seca since September 12, 2004 after it had been a regular on the CART schedule from 1983 to 2004.

NBC Sports.com asked Miles if the new management group would impact the multi-year contract at the picturesque road course near Monterey, California.

“I’m happy to answer that,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We have following the situation closely for several months. At this point, we don’t have any concerns. Our sanctioning agreement is with the county and not was not with SCRAMP. The county is excited about the event and looking forward to the next edition in 2020.

“The county has appointed a new management team for the operation of the facility. There is plenty of work to do on their part and on our part to make sure they understand the requirements for the event and to make sure they execute well.

“The event is certainly going on. The financial underpinnings and the contractual obligations are between us and the county. They think they have selected the best possible management team and we look forward to working with them.”

Miles said INDYCAR vice president of promoter and media partner relations Stephen Starks has been working directly with the new management group at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“The agreement is between us and the county and the county is absolutely comitted and excited about the future, they have appointed a new management team at Laguna Seca, and we look forward to working with them,” Miles said.

INDYCAR officials believe the series return to Laguna Seca was very successful in terms of promotion and spectator turnout.

“We were really pleased,” Miles said. “I think we under-estimated how outstanding it is both for the race and for the venue and the region. I thought it was better than we expected but it bodes well for the future.

“We’re going to be looking at how to take better advantage of it in the promotion of the series.

“There is plenty of room for growth and they will find ways to manage that from a traffic perspective,” Miles said. “We thought it was a great success. We think it can be even bigger. We have the commitment of the county and look forward to working with the new management team.”

Miles and INDYCAR are optimistic of continued success at WeatherTech Raceway with new management. However, the decision to end a 62-year relationship with SCRAMP was a surprise.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through.”

SCRAMP believed the Monterey County Board of Supervisors denied the chance for it to continue with its plan.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO,” McGrane said. “The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging.

“We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end.”

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

According to a statement from SCRAMP, in 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members.

INDYCAR, itself, is about to have an ownership change as racing and business icon Roger Penske and the Penske Corporation completes its acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions sometime after January 1. Miles and the INDYCAR staff as well as the staffs at IMS and IMS Productions will be retained.

Miles will become CEO of Penske Entertainment and will continue his duties that he currently has. Since the sale was announced on November 4, Miles and key officials have met with Penske and his top officials on a weekly basis.

“It’s been great,” Miles said. “We are covering tons of ground. Roger and his team are all about adding value.

“It’s a very focused effort that is making great progress.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500