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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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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