New challenge awaits Rolex Series at Kansas Speedway

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With championship battles continuing to evolve in both classes, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series has entered America’s Heartland for a Saturday night race on Kansas Speedway’s new “roval.”

Kansas now boasts a 2.37-mile road circuit that combines a six-turn infield set-up and a sizable portion of the familiar 1.5-mile oval that hosts NASCAR Sprint Cup action twice a year.

It’s the third new venue of 2013 for the Rolex Series, which has already made debuts at Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Tex.) and Road Atlanta (Braselton, Ga.).

After suffering a mechanical failure at Road America last weekend, the No. 2 Starworks BMW/Riley team of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel saw their lead in the Daytona Prototype championship chopped to just four points over the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.

Action Express Racing’s Christian Fittipaldi (-7 points) and Joao Barbosa (-9 points) are also within single digits of Popow and Dalziel with three races left in the season.

The Rolex Series’ Grand Touring championship is proving every bit as exciting as well. Consistent results toward the front have allowed the winless No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche team of Andy Lally and John Potter to keep hold of the top spot in the class.

But their lead is still just a slim seven markers over John Edwards and Robin Liddell in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro. Alessandro Balzan (-11 points), in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458, is also in on the chase as well.

According to the Associated Press, track officials are hopeful for a turnout of around 15,000 to 20,000 for Saturday night’s 2-hour, 45-minute race. A decent crowd can only help Kansas in its efforts to be included on next year’s inaugural schedule for the new United SportsCar Racing.

“They have to make some decisions for 2014 that are some tough decisions,” Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren told the AP’s Dave Skretta.

“As they try to figure out how they want to grow the series – what they want to do to bring [GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series] together – we just don’t know where we fit in that picture.”

Earlier tonight, Memo Rojas stuck the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW/Riley on the DP pole for Saturday after notching a lap of 1 minute, 9.883 seconds. In GT, IndyCar veteran Alex Tagliani wheeled the No. 61 R. Ferri/AIM Motorsports Ferrari 458 to the pole with a time of 1 minute, 14.956 seconds.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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