GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series from Barber Motorsports Park
By Efrain Olivares
After a two-month break, the Rolex Sports Car Series returned to action for the first time since the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona with a race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Barber circuit provides unique challenges for both the drivers and the engineers responsible for setting up the Daytona Prototype and GT-class cars of the Rolex Sports Car Series. With a layout that makes passing difficult, an abrasive surface that rapidly degrades tires, as well as high ambient temperatures, racing at Barber is very difficult.
|A large crowd turned out for the second round of the Rolex Sports Car Series at Barber Motorsports Park.|
There is always a dropoff in car count following the Rolex 24 at Daytona, as that is a big enough race that many teams only race there. However, it was plain to see at Barber that the new bodies developed for the Daytona Prototype class – including the much-hyped Corvette DP – have done little to stir interest in the class, with only nine cars entered. The GT class was stronger, with 19 cars entered. Thankfully, the race was entertaining and provided plenty of excitement – and a surprise win in GT.
|It was an anemic Daytona Prototype field, as only nine cars took the green flag at Barber.|
After several seasons of trying and many near misses – including taking the pole at this race last year and dominating before being sidelined by an electrical gremlin – the Spirit of Daytona team broke through to win their first race in the Rolex Sports Car Series.
Richard Westbrook qualified the no. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP on pole, ahead of the no. 99 Gainsco Corvette DP driven by Alex Gurney and the no. 5 Action Express Corvette DP – a 1-2-3 sweep in qualifying for Corvette.
|The Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP, driven by Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia, was the class of the DP field at Barber, taking pole and convincingly winning the 2 hour and 45 minute race.|
Westbrook led early and pulled away from the field until differing pitstop strategies put the no. 01 Ganassi BMW-Riley into the lead. However, driver Memo Rojas seemed to be doing all he could to not win the race. After flat-spotting a tire early in the race, he then nerfed a GT car off the track resulting in a penalty of a drive through the pits plus a ten second stop.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona winning car, the no. 60 Mike Shank Racing Ford-Riley, ran into trouble when driver John Pew was forced off track when a wayward Sahlen’s Mazda RX-8 rejoined the track after spinning directly in Pew’s path – sending him off track and causing the car to get stuck in the earth, which was very soft after a couple of days of rain.
|Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney drove the 'Red Dragon' to second in the DP class, rebounding from a difficult opening round at Daytona.|
Antonio Garcia took over the Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP, which was running in third after differing pit strategies. But Garcia was not going to sit around and wait for the lead to come back to him, which he demonstrated with a strong move on the no. 9 Action Express Daytona Prototype for second place on a restart.
|Despite Memo Rojas doing everything he could to hurt the chances of the no. 01 Ganassi BMW-Riley, Scott Pruett raced up to third in the closing laps thanks to a fresh set of tires.|
A late-race caution set up a bit of strategy for the Ganassi BMW-Riley, which had been taken over by Scott Pruett. The team brought him in for fresh tires, and at the green, Pruett was able to advance two spots from fifth up to third, with second placed Alex Gurney in the Gainsco 'Red Dragon' in his crosshairs.
But neither Pruett nor Gurney would catch Garcia, who took the Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP to its first victory.