Grand-Am cars race through infield with Pagoda shown in background in the Brickyard Grand Prix. [Joe Jennings Photo]
Starworks Motorsport Races To Victory In Brickyard Grand Prix Earns NAEC Championship
by Joe Jennings
The Starworks Motorsport team of Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Popow made history when they won the inaugural Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and along with it, they earned the first North American Endurance Championship and the $100,000 prize that accompanied the trophy and the glory.
The Grand-Am Brickyard Grand Prix podium with third place SunTrust Racing team, winner Starworks Motorsport team and second place Chip Ganassi Racing team. [Russ Lake Photo]
The Brickyard Grand Prix marked the ninth race of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season and it was one of the most prestigious events for the series - racing for the first time on the hollowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The three-hour timed race was run on the 13-turn, 2.534-mile road course, and a portion of the 91-lapevent was run in rainy and miserable conditions but at the end, the track and the hearty fans were basking in sunshine.
In a dramatic finish to a hotly contested race, Bourdais and Popow held off a handful of aggressive Daytona Prototype teams to claim the win and the spoils of victory. The ninth yellow flag came out on the 89th lap and the race ended at a slow pace two laps later. In total, the victors led 24 laps.
"This is a very special day," said Bourdais, who drove the final stint of the race. "I felt really strong in the car, even though we were down on straightaway speed. I've won a race a year for many seasons, so it was good to get this out of the way."
Regarding the final two restarts laps 78 and 87, Bourdais said he was nervous about jumping the restart or if going too slow, being devoured by the competition. "I didn't know where to accelerate, but once I learned it, I found I could brake late going into the first turn," he said. "On the last restart, Ricky Taylor ran strong alongside me, and I didn't know whether I could make the corner. Today it was all about survival."
Said Popow, "Coming out of here in first place at the Brickyard is a dream come true for me. This (win) is so special. On the first stint, I tried to be clean and keep the car in good shape for Sebastien (Bourdais) for the finish."
Popow had harrowing experiences driving in the rain, and he said he conducted a live interview with his engineer while aquaplaning in one part of the track. "I was floating over the water, and then I got into the grass," he said.
Team owner Peter Baron was thrilled with all but one portion of the outcome, a joust with Juan Pablo Montoya that took their second car of Ryan Dalziel out of the race. "We have had a great year and I don't know whether any other team has won at Sebring, Indianapolis and LeMans in the same year. Also, it is incredible to win the North American Endurance Championship.
"And it is awesome having Sebastien with us. He drove a killer of a race."
Second went to the Chip Ganassi Racing BMW of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. The pair of talented drivers had an up-and-down race, but they persevered when it counted to gain the strong finish even though they led only seven circuits.
"It was a super day for us," Pruett said. "Just about everything took place - the rain, a torn-up race car and a crash. We hoped to do better today, but we will take it."
When the Ganassi team started struggling, they adjusted their driver line-up, replacing Pruett with Rojas, who suffered an off-course excursion in the wet followed by a skirmish with a GT car at the beginning of the front stretch. Shortly thereafter, Pruett replaced Rojas and drove admirably to gain the solid finish.
\ Rojas said his car picked up a lot of gravel when he went off the track, and that gravel was flying everywhere inside the car and embedded into the tires, leading to his downfall.
The SunTrust Racing Corvette DP of Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli garnered third place.
The second Ganassi car of Montoya, Scott Dixon and Jamie McMurray ended up in the fourth spot, but Montoya was roundly criticized for his hard-nose driving style. Baron, in particular, was very outspoken and said he has repeatedly asked Grand-Am to take action against Montoya.
Fifth overall and the GT class winner was the Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 Cup car of Andy Lally and John Potter. The team also walked away with the coveted NAEC championship and the accompanying $50,000 prize.
Lally battled hard in the late stages of the race, and the former champion led the final 25 circuits, holding off the determined efforts of numerous contenders.
Said the emotional Lally, "It is an amazing feeling to win Indy. I can't believe we have actually pulled this off, winning the race and the NAEC championship. Winning Daytona and Indy in the same year is very special. Since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to race and win here, and when I kissed the bricks, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. Today is a proud moment, and my mom was here with me. She and I had our pictures taken in victory lane."
Second in class was the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 of Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito with Brumos Racing and drivers Leh Keen and Andrew Davis scoring third place.
Following the top-four Daytona Prototype cars were 10 GT cars. The next highest finishing DP team was the 15th place Action Express Racing Corvette DP.
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP car of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney were in contention early-on but after encountering difficulties, they exited after 52 laps without a clear explanation. The car was scored 27th overall.
The Rolex Series races next at Watkins Glen on August 11.