GRAND-AM Rolex points battle continues at Indy

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Friday’s Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will feature reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan and six other ‘500’ veterans on the grid. But another key storyline will be how the three-hour event impacts the current championship battle in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

Two teams find themselves tied at the top of the table – the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing (Corvette/Dallara/Daytona Prototype) duo of Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor, and the No. 2 Starworks Motorsport (BMW/Riley/Daytona Prototype) team of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel. Last year’s inaugural event at IMS saw the Starworks No. 2, driven by Popow and IndyCar pilot Sebastien Bourdais, cross the line first, while WTR’s Angelelli and Ricky Taylor finished third.

Both squads have been preparing diligently for what could be a critical point in the title race. Starworks has announced that starting this weekend, they’ll utilize BMW power for the rest of the season to bolster their bid for a Rolex Series crown.

“We have always had a good relationship with BMW of North America,” team owner Peter Baron said in a statement. “There is a dynamic change coming with the series integrating next year and we are looking for a partner and people we could work with long term. It is mid-season, but we felt that the time was right to add BMW Power.”

“I am really happy about Starworks making this move,” Dalziel added. “…This is the best decision we can make for our championship assault. The latest generation [4.5-liter] BMW engine is a really exciting package and we are ready to get our first win of 2013 and bring home a championship.”

As for WTR, Angelelli said that the team has been going through many different set-up options to see what will be the best one for Indy’s road course, which winds through the infield before putting drivers on a run through Turn 1 and the frontstretch of the track’s famous 2.5-mile oval.

“We never have had so many meetings about car setup, and we realized that, getting closer to the race, there are more variables than we thought we had a few weeks ago,” Angelelli said in a statement. “Now, we are thinking about our different options, setup, gearing, etc. The track has a long, long straight, and an infield section that has fast and slow corners and low grip.

“Sometimes, you get to a race and you have no options, so it’s really kind of boring. At Indy, it’s the kind of racetrack where you have to balance setting up for the long straight with what you want your car to do in the infield.”

WTR and Starworks are far from the only teams in the hunt, though. Christian Fittipaldi, who has won the last two events at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen with Action Express Racing co-driver Joao Barbosa, sits just four points off the lead. The No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty are five points back, and Barbosa himself is down just six points.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.