GRAND-AM Rolex Series 2013 Season Review

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This year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Series season had its highlights and unlike the ALMS, didn’t really have a sense of “finality” to it given the fact that its parent company, NASCAR, was the one doing the purchasing of ALMS as sports car racing headed toward the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014. What it did have, in spades, was the emergence of new breakout stars…

DP

No one will accuse Jordan Taylor of lacking for personality. The 22-year-old Floridian took his quirky, off the wall style to another level in 2013 with a series of music videos, Vines and Instagram posts that regularly defied logic or belief. In fact, one of the most common questions asked during 2013 in the sports car world was, “Did Jordan Taylor really just do that?

But, while Taylor is doing his best to promote his brand off-track, his brand on-track grew to another level as well in 2013 in his first full season in Daytona Prototypes. Once the awkward bit of replacing his older brother Ricky in father Wayne’s No. 10 Corvette DP was past, the younger Taylor grew by leaps and bounds working with co-driver Max Angelelli. They won twice in the first half of the season but it was when the team switched up its rotation, with Angelelli starting and Taylor finishing, the team hit its stride. Taylor delivered three of the most clutch performances in a row with wins in Kansas over Scott Pruett, Monterey over the Ganassi teammates, and Lime Rock over the field to capture the championship for he and “Max the Axe.. It was an effort well beyond his years.

The other real breakout stars, even if their results didn’t show it, were Brendon Hartley (Starworks Ford/BMW Riley) and Dane Cameron (Sahlen’s BMW Riley). Hartley nearly won in Austin and did break through at Road America; the latter seemed a race for Cameron’s taking before mechanical woes struck late in the day. Both punched above their weight with gentlemen co-drivers alongside.

The regular DP star teams elsewhere – Ganassi, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Action Express Racing and Michael Shank Racing – didn’t have their best years. Ganassi’s No. 01 car dominated the Rolex 24 and GAINSCO followed with a win in Austin, while Action Express took two midseason wins. Shank’s team spent more time repairing cars in seemingly Herculean efforts after a run of accidents, but unfortunately failed to reach the winner’s circle at any point in 2013. Also of note, Enzo Potolicchio branched off on his own from Starworks to create 8Star Motorsports and made a few waves in his first season with a Corvette DP.

GT/GX

Ferrari captured its second straight Rolex GT class title with its GRAND-AM-spec 458, which is modified slightly from the full FIA GT3-spec car. The Scuderia Corsa team, in its first full season, wrapped its hands around the car best and Alessandro Balzan took the GT class driver’s title. Balzan meshed well with a variety of co-drivers, Jeff Westphal then Leh Keen mainly, throughout the year. The No. 63 won only once (Kansas) but was a model of consistency en route to the title.

Hard luck runners-up were Magnus Racing, who also only won once but propelled themselves into the points lead entering the last race of the year. The John Potter/Andy Lally pairing was excellent and it was only when the car was hit by a wayward Aston Martin at the Lime Rock season finale that the title went begging. This is a team that has a Rolex 24 and North American Endurance Championship in its bag already, and will come out more determined than ever to win a class title in 2014. They already have the unofficial “racing press release championship” secured.

Elsewhere in class the Stevenson Camaro and Turner BMW M3 teams, with the old but reliable Prep 2 model cars, won seven of the 12 races in class. John Edwards and Robin Liddell spearheaded the Stevenson effort, which struggled for consistency despite four wins. Turner’s pair of Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana lacked the outright pace but often parlayed good strategic moves into success on race day.

The three remaining wins went to Audi (Rolex 24 with Alex Job Racing), Corvette (Lime Rock season finale, Marsh Racing) and Ferrari (R. Ferri/AIM Motorsport at Indianapolis). The R.Ferri/AIM No. 61 saw Alex Tagliani alongside defending class champion Jeff Segal in the balance of the season after Max Papis’ NASCAR commitments took him out of action. Segal’s old car, the No. 69 with Anthony Lazzaro and Emil Assentato, stayed in title contention to the end but lacked the speed to contend regularly for wins.

In the new GX class, Dr. Jim Norman emerged as driver’s champion after running a Porsche Cayman all year. Norman was part of the Napleton Racing team’s win at Daytona, then switched to a BGB-run effort the rest of the year. The class was more or less created to provide a home to Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Diesel, which won the last nine races after it got inevitable teething issues sorted. But missing points in the opening rounds provided the path for Norman to take the driver’s crown.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”