Dixon, Franchitti in 2nd Ganassi prototype for GRAND-AM Laguna Seca

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After this coming Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the IZOD IndyCar Series will go idle for more than a month. That makes for a lot of free time, and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be spending some of theirs in a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype.

With help from Ganassi backer Cessna Aircraft Company, Dixon and Franchitti will run a second CGR prototype, the No. 02 Cessna BMW/Riley, alongside full-timers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (No. 01 Telcel-TELMEX BMW/Riley) in the Rolex Series’ race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 8.

The event on California’s Monterey Peninsula will be the penultimate round for the Rolex Series in 2013, and Pruett and Rojas, the defending Rolex DP champions, are sitting just five points out of first place in this year’s title battle.

With Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10; drivers Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli), Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa of Action Express Racing, Starworks Motorsport (No. 2; drivers Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99; drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty) and Ganassi’s No. 01 all going at it for the crown, one has to wonder if Dixon and Franchitti’s No. 02 could have a major impact on the proceedings.

“Anytime you can pair two of the best IndyCar drivers out there in the same car makes for an immediate contender,” said Chip Ganassi Racing Teams president Steve Lauletta in a statement.

“We try and assemble an impressive lineup in the No. 02 car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona each season, and this year we’ve been able to provide more opportunities for our sponsors, like with Tony Kanaan and Joey Hand at Indianapolis, and now Scott and Dario for Cessna at Laguna Seca.”

Dixon and Franchitti were part of the No. 02 team for this year’s Rolex 24, in which they finished 11th in DP and 37th overall after a crash and then a subsequent mechanical failure.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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