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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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”