I don’t expect Chip Ganassi’s cars to win the Rolex 24 race in Daytona, I respect them when they do win. There is no question that the Ganassi team has the race dialed in and clearly sorted out. The race was marred by a late caution flag for the #90 car suffered a delaminated right rear that exploded shedding car parts all over the track. Scott Pruett was leading at the time with his teammate, Scott Dixon, in the second Ganassi car in second and Joao Barbosa in third.
With four minutes remaining in a fast and furious race, the nerves were high and the green flag waved for a one lap sprint to the checkered flag. Second, third and fourth positions were nose to tail for the restart. In the end, Scott Pruett took the win with Scott Dixon holding off a charging Barbosa for second. The GT class winner was Andy Lally for TRG Porsche.
The victory was a terrific story to be sure but for me, THE story of the 2011 Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona was the return of Martin Brundle with the United Autosports / Michael Shank team. The team brought together owner/driver Zak Brown, Mark Patterson and the two veteran Brit’s, Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell. The team was always in contention and while some teams suffer under the participation of a ProAm driver/owner, Zak Brown was running within touch of the leaders for most of his stints. A testament to his dedication to the United Autosports team and the skill this “owner” has.
While Brown and Patterson held the team in contention, the heavy lifting came from the Brits with Blundell doing a fabulous job of keeping the team at the front and clawing back time with each stint. While Blundell has done a few races over the past several years, he recently did drive for United Autsosports and is used to working with team owners Brown and Dean.
The amazing performance of the race has to go to Martin Brundle who has been driving a microphone for the BBC for the past several years and had not worked with United Autosports before. He pace, aggression and sheer brilliance was a real delight to watch. this retired open-wheel Brit came to the states and humbled many of the NASCAR professional drivers as well as road course legends.
His focus was never in question but some wondered if the F1 commentator was up to the challenge. We interviewed Brundle prior to the race and he seemed as excited as every to come back to Daytona. Brundle pressed hard to make a move on Barbosa on the final lap restart and shot wide into the first corner which ended his chance to make the pass for the podium but no one can take anything away from his brilliant performance.
An endurance race is always a team sport and relying on your mates to not destroy the car, carry out the tactics the team planned and making the best of their stints is a trust that doesn’t come easy. Sometimes owners don’t always make the best drivers but for this team, Brown and his Brits were amazing. It is no different in their FIA GT3 efforts and you can follow them here.
In the old days, a few enthusiasts would form a team and go racing in the Rolex 24 but those days are gone and the professionals have shown up to make the race a different beast. Refreshing then that United Autosports felt that a team owner and three veterans could join Shank racing and nearly reach the podium in an incredibly demanding race. A real feat by anyone’s measure. Congratulations to Zak Brown, Mark Patterson, Mark Blundell and one of the hardest working men in Daytona this weekend, Martin Brundle.