GRAND-AM Rolex Series 2013 Season Review

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This year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Series season had its highlights and unlike the ALMS, didn’t really have a sense of “finality” to it given the fact that its parent company, NASCAR, was the one doing the purchasing of ALMS as sports car racing headed toward the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014. What it did have, in spades, was the emergence of new breakout stars…

DP

No one will accuse Jordan Taylor of lacking for personality. The 22-year-old Floridian took his quirky, off the wall style to another level in 2013 with a series of music videos, Vines and Instagram posts that regularly defied logic or belief. In fact, one of the most common questions asked during 2013 in the sports car world was, “Did Jordan Taylor really just do that?

But, while Taylor is doing his best to promote his brand off-track, his brand on-track grew to another level as well in 2013 in his first full season in Daytona Prototypes. Once the awkward bit of replacing his older brother Ricky in father Wayne’s No. 10 Corvette DP was past, the younger Taylor grew by leaps and bounds working with co-driver Max Angelelli. They won twice in the first half of the season but it was when the team switched up its rotation, with Angelelli starting and Taylor finishing, the team hit its stride. Taylor delivered three of the most clutch performances in a row with wins in Kansas over Scott Pruett, Monterey over the Ganassi teammates, and Lime Rock over the field to capture the championship for he and “Max the Axe.. It was an effort well beyond his years.

The other real breakout stars, even if their results didn’t show it, were Brendon Hartley (Starworks Ford/BMW Riley) and Dane Cameron (Sahlen’s BMW Riley). Hartley nearly won in Austin and did break through at Road America; the latter seemed a race for Cameron’s taking before mechanical woes struck late in the day. Both punched above their weight with gentlemen co-drivers alongside.

The regular DP star teams elsewhere – Ganassi, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Action Express Racing and Michael Shank Racing – didn’t have their best years. Ganassi’s No. 01 car dominated the Rolex 24 and GAINSCO followed with a win in Austin, while Action Express took two midseason wins. Shank’s team spent more time repairing cars in seemingly Herculean efforts after a run of accidents, but unfortunately failed to reach the winner’s circle at any point in 2013. Also of note, Enzo Potolicchio branched off on his own from Starworks to create 8Star Motorsports and made a few waves in his first season with a Corvette DP.

GT/GX

Ferrari captured its second straight Rolex GT class title with its GRAND-AM-spec 458, which is modified slightly from the full FIA GT3-spec car. The Scuderia Corsa team, in its first full season, wrapped its hands around the car best and Alessandro Balzan took the GT class driver’s title. Balzan meshed well with a variety of co-drivers, Jeff Westphal then Leh Keen mainly, throughout the year. The No. 63 won only once (Kansas) but was a model of consistency en route to the title.

Hard luck runners-up were Magnus Racing, who also only won once but propelled themselves into the points lead entering the last race of the year. The John Potter/Andy Lally pairing was excellent and it was only when the car was hit by a wayward Aston Martin at the Lime Rock season finale that the title went begging. This is a team that has a Rolex 24 and North American Endurance Championship in its bag already, and will come out more determined than ever to win a class title in 2014. They already have the unofficial “racing press release championship” secured.

Elsewhere in class the Stevenson Camaro and Turner BMW M3 teams, with the old but reliable Prep 2 model cars, won seven of the 12 races in class. John Edwards and Robin Liddell spearheaded the Stevenson effort, which struggled for consistency despite four wins. Turner’s pair of Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana lacked the outright pace but often parlayed good strategic moves into success on race day.

The three remaining wins went to Audi (Rolex 24 with Alex Job Racing), Corvette (Lime Rock season finale, Marsh Racing) and Ferrari (R. Ferri/AIM Motorsport at Indianapolis). The R.Ferri/AIM No. 61 saw Alex Tagliani alongside defending class champion Jeff Segal in the balance of the season after Max Papis’ NASCAR commitments took him out of action. Segal’s old car, the No. 69 with Anthony Lazzaro and Emil Assentato, stayed in title contention to the end but lacked the speed to contend regularly for wins.

In the new GX class, Dr. Jim Norman emerged as driver’s champion after running a Porsche Cayman all year. Norman was part of the Napleton Racing team’s win at Daytona, then switched to a BGB-run effort the rest of the year. The class was more or less created to provide a home to Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Diesel, which won the last nine races after it got inevitable teething issues sorted. But missing points in the opening rounds provided the path for Norman to take the driver’s crown.

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”