GRAND-AM Primers: Mazda Raceway Rolex, CTSCC penultimate races

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The GRAND-AM Rolex Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge head west to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey this weekend for the second-to-last, or penultimate, race of their 2013 seasons. The Rolex race is Sunday with Continental’s on Saturday. Championship battles in all their classes are close.

ROLEX DP

  • Five points separate 10 drivers from five teams. The new points leader is YouTube sensation and mullet champion Jordan Taylor, with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Max Angelelli, who lead by two (269-267) over fellow Corvette DP driver Christian Fittipaldi after the WTR pair’s win in Kansas. Fittipaldi shares the Action Express No. 5 car with Joao Barbosa, who enters two further points behind (265) after an early season driver swap in the team altered the points totals.
  • The three pairs that have been together all season that could eclipse the leaders come from Starworks Motorsport (Alex Popow, Ryan Dalziel, No. 2 BMW Riley), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney, No. 99 Corvette) and three-time defending class champions TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, No. 01 BMW Riley). Popow and Dalziel have 266, with the GAINSCO pair on 265 and Ganassi’s on 264. Officially, it’s a toss-up.
  • Besides the five title contenders, 11 other DPs are entered in the 16-car class. Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker share the No. 42 Sahlen’s BMW Riley a year after the pair won in Monterey in the GT class, the last win for the outgoing Mazda RX-8. Cameron’s due a bit of luck after crushing blows at Road America and Baltimore his last two starts. CGR has a second car entered for its IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. Sebastien Bourdais (8Star) and Justin Wilson (Shank) resume with their GRAND-AM cameos, each driver racing for the sixth time in as many weekends.

ROLEX GT/GX

  • Ten points separate seven drivers in Rolex GT. Like in DP, the Kansas winner vaulted to the top of the points standings. Alessandro Balzan, who shares the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia with Leh Keen, leads the always colorful No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche pair of Andy Lally and John Potter by a single point, 279-278. John Edwards and Robin Liddell have won a class-high four races in the No. 57 Stevenson Camaro but their lack of consistency sees them three points back, at 276 markers. A second Ferrari, fielded by AIM Autosport/Team FXDD, is also in with a shot, Anthony Lazzaro and Emil Assentato 10 back in the No. 69 F458 Italia.
  • The 14-car GT class also includes three other Porsches, two other Ferraris (including one with Alex Tagliani), two Turner BMWs, a Corvette, the debuting TRG Aston Martin, and a privateer Audi R8 from Fall-Line Motorsports.
  • GX ordinarily doesn’t have much to write about but undoubtedly Mazda will want to secure its eighth straight class win with its SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel Mazda6 on home soil. The class will see a Lotus Evora make its debut alongside the pair of Mazdas and the solitary Porsche Cayman, whose driver, Dr. Jim Norman, actually leads the class points standings by seven over Mazda’s Joel Miller.

CONTINENTAL TIRE SPORTS CAR CHALLENGE

  • The GS class is essentially all over but the crying for Nick Longhi and Matt Plumb in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche 997. The pair have more than a 50-point lead on Stevenson Camaro’s pair of Matt Bell and John Edwards.
  • It’s a far different story in ST, where the class has a three-way tie at the top of the points standings. Burton Racing’s BMW 128i of Terry Borcheller and Mike LaMarra, RACE EPIC’s BMW 328i Jesse Combs and Jeff Mosing and Compass360 Racing’s Honda Civic Si of Ryan Eversley and Kyle Gimple are all square on 212. Basically, it’s winner-take-all here before Lime Rock.
  • This race marks the last time this season Continental Tire’s series will run combined GS/ST races, with the races split at the shorter 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park later this month.

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Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.