AP Photo/Ben Margot
Scott Pruett helped bring another title to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Grand-Am: Pruett and Rojas coast to title for Ganassi team
Scott Pruett's drive for an eighth sports car championship nearly vanished on a pit road last month in New Jersey.
When the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver crashed in a test session into a pit road barrier at New Jersey Motorsports Park, his Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype machine was left in two pieces and the points lead he shared with teammate Memo Rojas was in danger.
With no backup car on site and Pruett on the way to a local hospital, it appeared unlikely that the team would compete in the second-to-last race of the season, allowing 2007 champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty back in the title picture.
But within a couple hours of that incident, the No. 01 team returned to the race and the championship hunt behind its 48-year-old leader, who was cleared from a local hospital and begging his team to go back to work.
His crew responded, rushing to the team's headquarters in Indianapolis for the car it won the Rolex 24 at Daytona with -- on display as a shop car. The car made it to New Jersey in time for the race and Pruett/Rojas finished ninth, more than enough to maintain a healthy enough points lead to coast through last Saturday's Grand Am Rolex Series finale on the 4.486-mile Miller Motorsports Park at Tooele, Utah.
"You can win races with good drivers, but to win championships you need a good team," Ganassi said. "My guys did an amazing job. We had good results, and we had good luck when we needed it."
Pruett became the first driver to win a second Daytona Prototype championship, having previously won in 2004 with Ganassi and co-driver Max Papis. It was his record eighth American sports car championship, with the two Grand-Am titles to go along with previous championships in IMSA GTO (1986, 1988), Trans-Am (1987, 1994, 2003) and IMSA GT Endurance (1986).
"I'll look back at that more at the end of my career," Pruett said. "Right now, it's all about winning the championship and all the guys that have worked so hard. Nobody puts together a better effort than Chip Ganassi."
Saturday's race at Miller Motorsports Park was a walkover in terms of points, with Ganassi's leading pair needing only to drive the minimum required 30 minutes each in the 139-lap event to secure the title. It was a stroll earned not only at New Jersey, but in the season opener at Daytona, the Grand Prix in Miami in March and at Virginia International Raceway in April -- all wins.
"To accomplish what we have is just a testament to everyone involved," Pruett said. "After three straight seasons finishing second in this championship, it's great to be back on top."
The team didn't go out with a huge bang, pushed into a spin late in the race and finishing ninth behind first-place Michael Shank Racing and Bob Stallings' team of Fogarty/Gurney, who landed on the podium in third and 30 points behind the Ganassi team in second place for the title.
As it turned out, the Lexus-Riley that won at Daytona was feted again in Utah for Pruett and Rojas, the first Mexican to win a major international sports car championship. It was a milestone day all the way around, one that seemed distant just three weeks earlier after the crash in testing.
"We worked hard and had our highs and lows this season and I just can't say enough about how great this feels," Pruett said.
The GT championship came down to the final race, with Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R teammates Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards leaving no doubt, winning for the fourth time Saturday.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.