DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Charlie Kimball leaned over the pit lane wall to cheer on Juan Pablo Montoya during his final stint in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car. There was still an hour remaining in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but the drama was as thick as the morning fog that brought out a caution for nearly 2 hours.
Kimball was soon joined on the pit stand by co-drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas for the duration of the 51st event on the 3.56-mile, 12-turn circuit, which featured an event-record 72 lead changes. The last and most important came with 4 minutes, 52 seconds left when Montoya inherited the lead as Max Angelelli in the No. 10 VelocityWW car for Wayne Taylor Racing ducked onto pit lane for a splash of fuel.
Minutes later, Kimball joined the Victory Circle celebration in his first major touring car race.
“It’s pretty special,” said Kimball, who enters his third IZOD IndyCar Series season in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car. “I just had to come in and learn and not get into too much trouble and let them keep us in the race. Having these guys as teammates took a lot of pressure off my shoulders.
“The event was incredible. I was sitting there with four hours to go and thinking we have a whole Indy 500 left as far as time and why do they only run this event once a year. For the Ganassi group to be able get together with different cars, different drivers, all different walks of life and yet all from one team … We do our job in the car and in the pits, and to come away with a win is just overwhelming.”
It was the fifth victory in 10 trips to Daytona International Speedway for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and a record-tying fifth victory for Pruett (tying Hurley Haywood). It also was the 151st victory for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.
“We knew we had good cars and my hat off to all our guys in Indianapolis who put the cars together,” Ganassi said. “I’m very proud of our team’s fifth victory.”
Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, co-driving the VelocityWW car, and Justin Wilson, who co-drove the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing car, completed an IZOD IndyCar Series podium sweep. Wilson co-drove the car to victory in 2012.
“It’s a good way to start the year,” said Hunter-Reay, who bested his previous Rolex 24 high of third place in 2010. “The execution was top notch, and to be here with Chevrolet after everything we accomplished last year was special. I really love being a part of Team Chevy, and it’s a big part of my career.”
It was the fourth podium finish for Wilson at Daytona. The No. 60 car was seven laps down early in the race because of a mechanical issue.
“You always want to do your best for Mike," said Wilson, who this week will attempt to finalize his 2013 plans with Dale Coyne Racing. "He’s just so enthusiastic that it rubs off on everyone. If you’d have told us after the first hour that we’d have a chance of finishing third we’d have been over the moon.
"As you’re standing on the podium you’re thinking, ‘There’s nothing quite like being first,’ but third place after everything we’ve come through in this race is a great result."
The podium finishers were the only ones on the lead lap (907 laps completed).
Other INDYCAR drivers and their finish:
• Sebastien Bourdais, No. 2 Starworks Motorsport with Alex Popow, sixth overall and Daytona Prototype.
• Dario Franchitti and Scot Dixon, No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, 37th overall and 11th in Daytona Prototype.
• Simon Pagenaud, No. 42 Team Sahlen, 21st overall and ninth in Daytona Prototype.
• Tony Kanaan, No. 21 Dener Motorsports, 46th overall and 28th in GT.
• James Hinchcliffe, No. 70 Mazdaspeed/Speedsource, 53rd overall and fourth in GX.
• Tristan Vautier, No. 00 Visit Florida Racing/Speedsource, 56th overall and sixth in GX.