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.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.