GRAND-AM Rolex points battle continues at Indy

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Friday’s Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will feature reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan and six other ‘500’ veterans on the grid. But another key storyline will be how the three-hour event impacts the current championship battle in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

Two teams find themselves tied at the top of the table – the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing (Corvette/Dallara/Daytona Prototype) duo of Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor, and the No. 2 Starworks Motorsport (BMW/Riley/Daytona Prototype) team of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel. Last year’s inaugural event at IMS saw the Starworks No. 2, driven by Popow and IndyCar pilot Sebastien Bourdais, cross the line first, while WTR’s Angelelli and Ricky Taylor finished third.

Both squads have been preparing diligently for what could be a critical point in the title race. Starworks has announced that starting this weekend, they’ll utilize BMW power for the rest of the season to bolster their bid for a Rolex Series crown.

“We have always had a good relationship with BMW of North America,” team owner Peter Baron said in a statement. “There is a dynamic change coming with the series integrating next year and we are looking for a partner and people we could work with long term. It is mid-season, but we felt that the time was right to add BMW Power.”

“I am really happy about Starworks making this move,” Dalziel added. “…This is the best decision we can make for our championship assault. The latest generation [4.5-liter] BMW engine is a really exciting package and we are ready to get our first win of 2013 and bring home a championship.”

As for WTR, Angelelli said that the team has been going through many different set-up options to see what will be the best one for Indy’s road course, which winds through the infield before putting drivers on a run through Turn 1 and the frontstretch of the track’s famous 2.5-mile oval.

“We never have had so many meetings about car setup, and we realized that, getting closer to the race, there are more variables than we thought we had a few weeks ago,” Angelelli said in a statement. “Now, we are thinking about our different options, setup, gearing, etc. The track has a long, long straight, and an infield section that has fast and slow corners and low grip.

“Sometimes, you get to a race and you have no options, so it’s really kind of boring. At Indy, it’s the kind of racetrack where you have to balance setting up for the long straight with what you want your car to do in the infield.”

WTR and Starworks are far from the only teams in the hunt, though. Christian Fittipaldi, who has won the last two events at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen with Action Express Racing co-driver Joao Barbosa, sits just four points off the lead. The No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty are five points back, and Barbosa himself is down just six points.

Mercedes power: Hamilton, Bottas fastest during 1st French GP practice

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) — Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the top two times during the opening practice for Formula One’s French Grand Prix on Friday.

Defending champion Hamilton clocked the best lap time at 0.140 seconds faster than Bottas.

Red Bulls’ Daniel Ricciardo had the third best effort, followed by Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by one point atop the standings after seven of 21 races.

The session had one red flag near the end when Marcus Ericsson spun out of control and slammed into the barrier on Turn 11. The right rear of his Sauber burst into flame before the Swede got out. Sauber said he was unharmed.

Hamilton also had a scare when forced to swerve off course to avoid ramming a slow-going Stoffel Vandoorne and slalomed around two rows of bollards before returning to the flow. Hamilton said on his team radio the McLaren driver was going “dangerously slow” when he came upon him.

Later, Hamilton complained his Mercedes was having trouble turning. After coming back out, the four-time world champion quickly went to the top of the timesheet.

This was the first chance drivers had to run on the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Paul Ricard Circuit, as F1 makes its return to France for the first time in a decade.

The track resting in wooded hills just inland from the Cote d’Azur was basked in the Mediterranean sun and subject to moments of gusting winds.

Raikkonen, Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Vandoorne all spun their cars onto the blue-striped run-off areas at Turn Six because of a tricky tailwind but managed to stop before hitting the barrier.

Charles Leclerc (Sauber) twice spun to a brief stop, while Max Verstappen drove wide on consecutive corners and had a near-miss with Sergio Perez of Force India.

Vettel took the lead in the standings two weeks ago in Montreal where he won the Canadian GP after starting from pole position. That victory erased a 14-point lead held by Hamilton after he could manage only a fifth-place finish.

There will be two more practices on Friday and on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s race.

The last time a F1 race was held here at Le Castellet was in 1990 when Alain Prost won for Ferrari.