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GRAND PRIX NOTES

Pruett, Diaz Win Sports Car Event

April 09, 2006|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

For Scott Pruett, the streets of Long Beach are paved with gold.

Pruett, driving sports cars now after careers in open-wheel and stock car racing, took the checkered flag Saturday with teammate Luis Diaz in the inaugural running of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In his 17th race through familiar streets, Pruett, 46, pushed his Lexus Riley Daytona prototype to the finish line 3.9 seconds ahead of Mike Rockenfeller in a factory Porsche, giving Pruett his fifth Long Beach victory in four kinds of cars.

Pruett won in go-karts in 1982 and 1983, a Trans-Am sedan in 1987 and the pro/celebrity race in 2001. He also finished second for Pat Patrick in a Champ Car in 1995 and third in 1997.

"It's been a great ride and I've enjoyed every moment of it, and Long Beach is always going to have that special place in my career, and my heart," Pruett said.

Patrick Long, Rockenfeller's co-driver, took the lead from Pruett's co-driver, pole-sitter Diaz, on Lap 6, but the Chip Ganassi-Felix Sabates-owned team regained the lead after a driver change during a 19-lap, 30-minute caution period.

The victory gave Pruett and Diaz the series lead.

A total of 19 laps, accounting for 46 minutes, were run under caution in the 52-lap, 90-minute race that was the prototypes' first street race.

The major caution was the result of Burt Friselle's steering his wounded car into the path of fifth-place Eddie Cheever Jr. along Shoreline Drive. Cheever's car spun Friselle's into the path of Rocky Moran Jr., who T-boned him at 147 mph, Moran said. Moran suffered a severe bruise in his left leg.

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A two-time winner in the Indy Racing League, Alex Barron would be a 35-year-old rookie in the Champ Car Atlantic Series if not for one thing: He won the series championship in 1997.

The eight-year veteran of Champ Cars and Indy cars turned down IRL offers this season to race in Atlantic, a development series that features new 300-horsepower Mazda-powered Swift chassis. Twenty-nine cars will start for today's season opener.

It is, Barron admits, "somewhat of a risk."

The series champion will win $2 million toward a Champ Car ride in 2007, and it has attracted new teams and proven talent.

"There are a lot of guys with a really high level [of talent] ... that have already shown a tremendous amount of speed at the tests, and they've won other championships," said Barron, a Menifee resident who will start 12th.

"If you win the championship, it means a lot, but by no means is it going to be easy because the level in Atlantic is as high as it has been in its history."

Andreas Wirth, with a course-record 93.121 mph, led 13 drivers who posted qualifying speeds faster than the provisional standard set Friday by Simon Pagenaud, who will start alongside Wirth today.

Barron picked up some extra work this weekend. He drove the Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford in the Rolex race with Michael McDowell as a replacement for Memo Gidley, who suffered a spinal injury in a crash during warm-ups. Gidley suffered two compressed vertebrae.

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Bucky Lasek, the pro skater and X Games gold medalist who owns a shifter kart and runs laps at Moran Raceway in Beaumont, was an easy winner in the 30th Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.

Craftsman truck series driver Todd Bodine was the professional winner, finishing fourth overall, behind John Elway and Martina Navratilova in a race shortened to nine laps instead of the scheduled 10 because of a Turn 1 pile-up.

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