GRAND-AM Series: Miller Has Seen its Share of Thrillers

By Auto News Log • September 10th, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “You couldn’t write a script that dramatic if you tried.”

That was Jon Fogarty’s description of the 2007 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season finale at Miller Motorsports Park, but could really be used to describe all four Rolex Series races at the state-of-the-art road circuit west of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The first three Rolex Series races at Miller were 1,000-mile endurance contests around the track’s full, 4.5-mile layout, and remarkably, the Daytona Prototype victory in all three of those races went to first-time winners.

The inaugural Rolex Series race at Miller in 2006 came down to a shootout between Ozz Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus/Riley and Michael McDowell in the No. 19 Playboy Racing Ford/Crawford. The battle lasted the entire final hour of the race as the race went into the night.

And there in near pitch-black darkness, in the middle of the Utah desert, Negri, co-driver Mark Patterson and Michael Shank Racing finally celebrated a hard-earned and well-deserved first Rolex Series victory.

“Those guys couldn’t see anything,” recalls team owner Mike Shank. “People’s lights behind you actually helped. When McDowell was behind us, Ozz could see better because his lights would go out past our car, but it was tough when you’re splitting GT cars in the process.”

The following year’s endurance race featured another set of first-time winners in Mark Goossens, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jim Matthews in the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac/Riley, but the real fireworks in that race happened a bit further back in the field. The 2007 season finale came down to a three-team battle for the championship between the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing squad, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing team and the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing operation.

The battle reached its boiling point with less than an hour and a half remaining, when Scott Pruett and Jon Fogarty made contact, leaving both of their cars with flat tires, while the No. 10 machine of Max Angelelli fell out of the race when it caught fire after running over debris from the incident between Pruett and Fogarty.

Pruett tangled again with the No. 99 machine with less than 20 minutes left in the race and the championship, this time with Gurney at the wheel, and was subsequently penalized for avoidable contact. Gurney and Fogarty survived to finish eighth and clinch their first Daytona Prototype championship.

“The amount of tension and the mood on the pit box was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” Fogarty says. “It was crazy.

“When the checkered flew, at that point we knew based on the calls they’d (GRAND-AM officials) made during the race that we had in fact won the championship. It was awesome.”

It was Michael Shank Racing’s turn to have another awesome experience in 2008, but this time it was the No. 6 Ford/Riley team and co-drivers Ian James, John Pew and future IndyCar racer Raphael Matos who were celebrating a first victory.

“That was a really, really cool race,” Shank says. “We had a crazy rainstorm come and both of my cars ran off the road and hit each other and the tire wall.

“The 6 car went on and Ian did a rain stint and got us up in the mix. Then we put Rafa in for the end, had a great pit stop, got him out early and he just drove away.”

Last year featured the first Rolex Series sprint race at Miller and saw Gurney and Fogarty score a key victory en route to their second Daytona Prototype title.

“We were in a situation points wise where it was really important to win the race,” Fogarty said. “We really had to have a perfect weekend.

“It was a little bit gut wrenching as well, but we were real happy with our performance that weekend. It was just an awesome weekend.”

It should be another awesome weekend this year, as the 3.048-mile perimeter circuit will be used for the first time. And while the layout may have changed somewhat, many of the drivers and teams and the close competition still remain.

Because of that, we could be in for another thriller at Miller.

Source: GRAND-AM Road Racing

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