Ganassi bidding for third straight endurance race victory
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chip Ganassi Racing got a strong start in its bid for an unprecedented third straight victory in America's premier sports car endurance race despite a prerace strategy glitch.
The Lexus Riley co-driven by former IndyCar Series champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, along with Salvador Duran and Alex Lloyd, was out front Saturday after three hours in the Rolex 24-Hour race at Daytona International Speedway.
Rain fell sporadically during prerace activities and the two Ganassi entries were among 10 Daytona Prototype cars that changed from rain tires to racing slicks during the pace lap. All of those cars had to start the race from the pits and then work their way through heavy traffic in the early going.
Dixon and Scott Pruett, part of last year's winning team with Duran and Juan Pablo Montoya, both took the green flag near the rear of the 25-car prototype contingent, but quickly worked their way forward, with Dixon driving into the lead midway through the second hour on the 3.56-mile road circuit.
Pruett gave way to Montoya, NASCAR's top 2007 rookie, after two hours, with that entry running 12th, a lap behind the leaders. IndyCar champion and NASCAR newcomer Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas are also part of that team.
"I've been having a little problem locking up the front, so I had to do a couple of pit stops because we're being overly cautious," Pruett explained. "But our car is running well otherwise. I just need to find that fine line between carrying good speed and avoiding locking it up."
A.J. Allmendinger, another 2007 NASCAR rookie, started in his team's Ford Riley, passing Michael Shank Racing teammate and pole-winner Oswaldo Negri Jr. at the start to take the lead.
He was just one of nine leaders in the early going as the 66-car field, including 41 of the slower GT class cars, remained tightly bunched and there were a series of full-course caution flags.
"With the rain and everything, overall, I think we need to find a little more grip out there," Allmendinger said. "It's very slippery. A lot of guys are going off out there."
Asked about the traffic, Allmendinger made a face and said, "It's brutal. It's so bad out there right now, it's a struggle.
"It's worse than I remember in past years. We were catching GT cars in groups of 10 out there, and I don't remember that happening before."
The twice-around-the-clock race began at 1:30 p.m.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press