Heavily favored Ganassi teams regroup in Rolex 24

Associated Press
The Gainsco Chevrolet Riley drivers, from left, Alex Gurney, Jimmie Johnson, and Jon Fogarty, walk down pit road prior to the start of the Grand Am Rolex 24 hour auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011.(AP Photo/David Graham)
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The Gainsco Chevrolet Riley drivers, from left, Alex Gurney, Jimmie Johnson, and Jon Fogarty, walk down …

The two Chip Ganassi Racing entries rallied from early issues and an unusually aggressive pace to get back in contention in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Both the No. 01 and No. 02 BMW Riley cars fell to the back of the Daytona Prototype class because of problems just shy of the one hour mark in the twice-round-the-clock race that began Saturday afternoon.

The first problem hit the No. 02 when Scott Dixon blew a right rear tire. Shortly after, Scott Pruett took the No. 01 to pit road to change the gear box.

Despite the setbacks, nobody seemed worried.

"If that's our biggest problem, we're going to have a pretty smooth race," Dixon said. "It doesn't change anything. It's 24 hours. There's still a long ways to go."

Dixon was spot on with his assessment.

Both Ganassi cars moved through the field at Daytona International Speedway, even after a second blown tire on the No. 02 while Dario Franchitti was driving. Memo Rojas took the No. 01 to the lead, and Juan Pablo Montoya drove the No. 02 from 12th to first as the race rolled toward Sunday morning.

Winners of three straight Rolex races from 2006-08, Ganassi is trying to get back to Victory Lane in the prestigious endurance race after consecutive second-place finishes.

It helped that two of the team's top challengers — SunTrust Racing and Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing — both had problems just as the Ganassi cars began their rally.

Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson warned the Gainsco team about brake problems after his second-leg stint, and he was in the middle of his post-drive news conference when he saw on a television monitor the car being worked on in the garage.

"Did we get a yellow? I hope? No? Oh," he said.

A second mechanical problem while Jon Fogarty was driving dropped the Gainsco team 28 laps behind the leader.

The SunTrust team had to pit for repairs after contact with both Fogarty and Montoya.

But with so much time remaining, the race was still wide open despite the aggressive early start that led to a track full of debris and had veteran drivers openly wondering why teams were pushing so hard in the starting stages of an endurance race.

"Absolute madness," a bewildered Franchitti said. "There's some aggressive driving out there, huh?"

That was an understatement.

Drivers set a furious pace from the drop of the green flag in an unusually warm temperatures. It created numerous spins, several accidents and overshadowed the early struggles of the heavily favored Ganassi teams.

It also had many worried that the pace would only pick up once night fell.

"I'm 100 percent convinced people will go faster because of the heat," said Max Angelelli of SunTrust Racing. "It's going to be cooler, cars go faster, you have fresh drivers. It's going to be faster than this for sure."

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