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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Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.