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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Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?