Taylor, Angelelli, Balzan and Norman become final GRAND-AM Rolex champs

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Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli ended the GRAND-AM era in style with a dominant victory at Lime Rock Park that also earned them the final Daytona Prototype championship in Rolex Series history, while Alessandro Balzan and Dr. Jim Norman put their names into the history books as the series’ final GT and GX class champions respectively.

Taylor, driving the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette, was forced to withstand one last restart with three minutes remaining after a multi-car incident involving Patrick Long, Richard Westbrook and Alex Gurney brought out the yellow with less then 10 minutes to go.

But just as he showed in the late going at Kansas and Laguna Seca, Taylor came up clutch when it counted and quickly pulled away of his rivals to secure the win and the championship.

In a season that saw multiple squads take over the DP points lead only to give it up because of various calamities on the track, he and Angelelli were the ones to finally keep a grip on the prize.

“I’m a bit of a loser in a way – racing is my life and I’ve only got a few friends,” Taylor said self-deprecatingly afterwards to Fox Sports. “But it’s family, friends and racing for me, so I’m just happy to finally get a championship with, basically, my brother, Max.”

Angelelli, who once again opened things for the No. 10 today and claimed his second career Rolex Series title, was beaming with pride.

“It’s just a fantastic job, the whole team,” Angelelli said. “We are all together. Pit stops, strategy – they were just fantastic. Everything worked out.”

Meanwhile in GT, the championship was altered dramatically in the opening laps when the class-leading No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche of John Potter made contact with Richie Stanaway in the No. 66 TRG Aston Martin and was sent spinning in Turn 2.

The No. 11 Lotus GX machine of Scott Dollahite then slammed into the No. 44, causing considerable front end damage and forcing it behind the wall for necessary repairs.

The car would eventually come back and finish 13th in class, which was not enough to stop Balzan from claiming the GT crown after surviving a mid-race run-in with fellow Ferrari pilot Jeff Segal and then finishing second to the race-winning No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette of Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach.

“It was the hardest race ever in my life,” Balzan said. “For me to be here, the first year for me and the first year for Scuderia Corsa, to get the championship – I think we’re going to spend one fantastic holiday this winter.

“It was really unlucky what happened to the [Magnus] Porsche, but it was a really wild race, especially in the last 40 minutes. Not everyone was really fair, but you know, I’m the champion, the team is the champion, Ferrari is the champion. We cannot ask for more.”

Early in the race, the GX title was clinched by Dr. Norman, who went on to finish second with co-driver Spencer Pumpelly in the race behind winners Tom Long and Sylvain Tremblay.

“It’s been a great year for us battling those factory Mazdas,” Norman said following an early stint. “I’ve got a great teammate, Spencer’s an amazing driver and a great coach. We’re really proud and pleased to be the first champions [of this class].”

Also earning a GRAND-AM title today were Nick Longhi and Matt Plumb, who claimed the Grand Sport title in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge earlier this morning.

With GRAND-AM’s fond farewell this afternoon, the sports car world now turns to the other piece of #TheFuture – the American Le Mans Series, which will stage its penultimate race next weekend at Virginia International Raceway before closing up shop with the Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta on Oct. 19.

The two series will merge into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship next season.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.