|Fontana, California, October 31, 2004 –– It was a championship battle that came down to the final race of the season but when the checkered flag waved at the California Speedway, CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates earned its first Rolex Sportscar Series Championship title with a win by the no.01 CompUSA Lexus Riley at the Lexus Grand American 400K. Following their record setting 11th pole in 12 races, Scott Pruett and Max Papis added a fourth win to their stellar season to capture the drivers and team title with the victory in the team’s inaugural season in Rolex Sportscar Series.|
“That’s the way you want to win a championship, said team owner Chip Ganassi who now boasts his sixth championship victory and the team’s first sportscar series title (five were earned in openwheel CART Champ Car and Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competition). “Winning the race, in order to win a championship that isn’t decided until the last race of the season, makes it even more gratifying. I was as nervous as anyone heading into this race. This has been an incredible battle all season long. I’ve had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it. To win our first Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series championship in just our first season is very special.”
CompUSA began the season finale as a triple threat as all three team entries took a clean sweep of the top three positions in qualifying. From the pole, Papis jumped out to an early lead ahead of his CompUSA teammates Darren Manning in the No. 8 Lexus Riley and Jimmy Morales in the No. 02 Lexus Riley. Meanwhile, the No. 01 co-drivers’ chief rival for the championship, Wayne Taylor in the No. 10 car encountered fuel pickup problems on Lap 7 of the 89-lap race and was forced to pit prematurely. The problem ultimately dropped the No. 10 car off the lead lap and effectively ended their championship bid. They would go on to finish the race in fourth place.
The no.01 CompUSA team did have a few anxious moments on Lap 39 as Papis turned over the driving duties to his teammate, and Pruett was prematurely given the signal to leave pit lane without the fueling process having been completed. The ensuing penalties cost the no.01 car a total of 55 seconds, and Pruett lost the lead to teammate Luis Diaz in the No. 02 for eight laps.
“Everyone was just so keyed up for this race and I got sent out just a bit too soon,” said Pruett. “It was a small mistake that fortunately didn’t cost us much and we got our focus back very quickly. The car was superb but I can tell you that when being up front like that with so much on the line, I’ve never been so conscious of every lap that I did. I was very conservative in traffic and didn’t want to take too many risks.”
Following their final planned pit stop on lap 68, Diaz relinquished the lead to Pruett. The no.02 CompUSA car return to the track in third spot and put intense pressure on the no.4 car for second place when the two made contact and Diaz had to make an unscheduled stop with a flat tire, relegating the no.02 CompUSA Lexus Riley to a sixth place finish.
“I was pushing really hard to catch and pass the no.4 car and got half the car on the inside going into the corner when we touched and unfortunately I lost out,” said Diaz completes his rookie season with a tenth place in the driver standings. “It was just good hard racing and we were going for it. We ended up losing a spot on the podium but I had to try. I’m very happy to be part of this Chip Ganassi team and this Rolex series Championship. I’ve learned so much from this team and I can really say that this has been one of the most gratifying seasons of my racing career.”
“On the start, the most important thing was to protect the no.01 CompUSA car,” said no.02 CompUSA co-driver Jimmy Morales. “Today we did what we came to do; race hard and help the team win a championship. The no.02 Lexus Riley had a strong race and a good strategy and we showed we had what it takes to be up front but in the end just a bit of bad luck stopped us from getting up on the podium with our teammates. But we were still up there because when they win, we win. I truly believe that. This whole season has been a true team effort and we win the championship as a team.”
The team’s third entry, the no.8 CompUSA Lexus Riley, ended up as the benefactor of their teammates woes, as Manning and co-driver Scott Dixon battled to a third-place result despite contact with the No. 63 car on Lap 10 that required a new front end. It was Manning’s first-ever appearance in the Rolex Sports Car Series and was Dixon’s first Rolex Series race since competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona early in the year.
“We had a good start and I was able to keep pace with Max (Papis) in the no.01 CompUSA Lexus Riley,” Manning said. “I had a bit of a rookie mistake at the beginning which ripped off the nose of the car and cost us some valuable positions. We also had some fuel pick up problems that took away our straight line speed but we were fairly good in traffic. Scott (Dixon) did a good job to get us back into the top five and finishing on the podium is definitely a bonus in this my first run in the Rolex Series. It was definitely a good experience and I’d look forward to doing it again.”
“From my initial experience at the 24 Hours at Daytona, I could see marked improvements in the adjustability of the car and how the team has really come together,” observed Dixon. “Darren and I held our own out there in a very competitive field and it was really nice to have Chip (Ganassi) give us this opportunity to actively be part of this weekend and see the CompUSA team win the title and bring home another championship to the Ganassi organization.”.
“I’m overwhelmed right now at winning this championship with such an outstanding team,” said Papis who earned his first motorsports championship. “The entire CompUSA team gave everything they had today and all season long. They gave Scott (Pruett) and me the tools to get it done on track and we rose to that challenge. This is my first championship and it was hard fought. The car was awesome once again and that allowed us to stay up front. What makes it so sweet is how hard we had to work for this because of the kind of opposition that we faced in every race this season. It was a fight every time out there but we wanted this very badly and now we can say we are champions.”
“We showed determination and a lot of hard work,” said Pruett of the CompUSA team’s quest for victory and the Daytona Prototype crown. “It’s nice to win, even sweeter to have a championship. The competition in this Rolex series has been unbelievable all year and being crowned champions is a tribute to the kind of organization Chip Ganassi has put together and I’m very proud to be part of it.”
After a successfully recording 4 wins, 11 poles and 11 podium finishes total in their rookie season, CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is already looking forward to next season‘s Rolex Series Daytona Prototype competition.
“Road racing has been in my heart from the start and so when (business partner) Felix Sabates talked to me about going sportscar racing in the Rolex Series it was an easy decision,” said Ganassi of his reason for getting involved in the Grand American Series racing. “The competition has just been at such a high level from the start and it just got more intense throughout the year. This team worked very hard and with the help of our partners at Lexus, Riley Technologies, CompUSA, Telmex and Good Guys, we did everything we could to be successful and I’m proud to say we were. I can’t wait to get back out there in 2005 to defend our championship.”
The Rolex Series returns to the track on February 3-6 for the season opener at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates fans are invited to keep up with the team’s progress during the off-season by logging onto the official team website at chipganassiracing.com for news, features, photos and much more.
Credit: Chip Ganassi Racing – Weekend Race News