Victory lane with Antonio Garcia and Richard Westbrook along with winning car owner Troy Flis. [Joe Jennings Photo]
Spirit Of Daytona Racing Scores Series Of Firsts In Rolex Series Action In Alabama
by Joe Jennings
Leeds, Ala. - The Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP team has upped its game in recent months and on Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park, it overpowered the Rolex Series field to win the Porsche 250 at the picturesque 2.38-mile road-course outside of Birmingham. In winning, Troy Flis's Daytona-based team took its first-ever Daytona Prototype victory and gave Corvette its initial DP crown along with chassis manufacturer Coyote.
Winning drivers Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia made it all happen and Westbrook won for the first time in Rolex Series action and Garcia earned his second DP triumph. The talented duo started from the pole position and led 84 of the 103 laps. As the race wore down, the team had built up a commanding lead, only to see it vanish with a late-race caution flag bunched the field.
For the final restart, Garcia staved off the late-race charge from runner-up Alex Gurney in the GAINSCO Corvette DP and the surging Scott Pruett in the BMW Riley of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team. At the checkered flag, Gurney was 2.3 seconds back and Pruett trailed by 2.8 seconds.
"It was a weekend of firsts for our team" Westbrook said. "It is incredible and the car has come a long way since Daytona (Rolex24). The car didn't meet our standards then but we have worked hard since then. I am proud to be part of this program."
Added Garcia, who finished the race, "It was an amazing weekend. Our tire degradation started out to be a factor, but we worked on it. Also, restarts were tricky for me. When the cautions started, I knew that it doesn't matter if you pull away but it did matter to take care of your tires. And I just kept doing that.
"Winning first victory for Spirit of Daytona team makes it even better for us and it is just what we needed. Our whole team has made a really good effort."
Flis, a Daytona businessman, was ecstatic over the win. "This victory is huge, and it is something I have wanted to do for seven or eight years; that's when I last won a GT race in Grand-Am," he said. "It has been a long time in coming and it is a dream to win this deal overall. These races are so competitive and we have been building this team for 20 years, and I have been promising my family and guys that we were going to win one of these races soon."
The GAINSCO Corvette DP team of Jon Fogarty and Gurney viewed second place as a turn-around for their dismal performance in the season opener in Daytona.
"The race marks a big turn-around for us, and we seemed to be pointed in the right direction," Fogarty said.
Added co-driver Gurney, "We knew the No. 90 (Spirit of Daytona) team had discovered some magic a year ago and they transferred it over to Corvette. They had the pace, but our car was really good and we took care of our tires."
Rojas and Pruett were in fifth place when the caution came out with three laps to go, so Pruett pitted for fresh tires. The tires allowed him to gain two positions on the restart and he was closing on the second-place car when the race ended.
"In another lap, we would have been toast," Gurney stated.
The Starworks Motorsport Ford of Enzo Potolicchio and Ryan Dalziel earned fourth place with the SunTrust Racing Corvette DP of Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor took fifth place.
The top-five finishers completed the full 103 laps.
In the spirited GT race, Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito came home the victors driving the SpeedSource Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8.
"We got smoked at Daytona, but our group pulled together to get back in it," Tremblay said. "Strategy was everything today along with taking care of your tires. The hotter it got the better we liked it."
Stated Bomarito, "The crew put us into the lead, and I just put my head down. I didn't like it when that last yellow came out as I was unaware they we had a one-lap lead. It is fun to be on the top again."
The winning Mazda finished a lap ahead of the AIM Autosport FXDD Ferrari 458 of Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal. For Ferrari, the team earned its first podium finish.
Third in GT was the Brumos Porsche GT3 Cup entry of Leh Keen and Andrew Davis.
The Rolex Series takes a month break until its next race, the Grand Prix of Miami, at the Homestead- Miami Speedway on April 29.