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GRAND-AM To Get First Taste Of The Motor City

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 1 2012

The SunTrust Wayne Taylor Racing drivers are Belle Isle newbees.

Courtesy of the 2012 GRAND-AM Series schedule, Max Angelelli heads straight from Victory Lane into the unknown this weekend. Oh, except for a couple of stops at the video game console along the way.

Next up for all the teams and drivers of the series is the Detroit stop on the schedule: The Chevrolet 200 at Belle Isle.

While the Belle Isle track has a lengthy history – it has hosted CART  and IndyCar races – it is new to the sports cars of GRAND-AM. In fact, racing on temporary street  courses like that at the 2.07-mile Belle Isle course, is new to many of  the teams and drivers of the series.

Like veteran sports car driver Angelelli, who, with SunTrust Racing driving partner Ricky Taylor, is coming off two straight 2012 victories.

“I have zero first-hand knowledge of the track,” the Corvette Daytona Prototype driver said.

But he does have video games which feature the track. He said this week that he and his team have been spending considerable time doing virtual studying of the track and the know a little bit about what to expect in Saturday’s race. That would be concrete walls and tight racing.

“You just need to be extra careful,” Angelelli said. “Low-percentage passes are not suggested. But, anyway, everybody will be in the same boat. I think it’s going to be a very exciting race because it’s going to be short and we will be pushing from beginning to end. It will definitely be interesting. This time will

Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor.

be my time to qualify and start the race. Pressure or no pressure because of that will make no difference. I qualify at Daytona, so I don’t think there will be any more pressure than that.”

Taylor, son of team owner Wayne Taylor, said a lot of brain piquing has also been going on.

“With how small the racing community is,” Taylor said, “everybody knows somebody who’s been there before, so we’re tapping into all of those resources. I’ve been talking with people. Brian (Pillar, engineer) has been talking to people. Pratt & Miller (Corvette DP bodywork designer) has been there with the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) Corvette.

“We have been gathering a lot of input to make educated guesses as to how to set up the car for the circuit. Brian’s got a good plan for practice and that should help a lot. I’ve been watching a lot of video of on-board cameras – in an LMP (Le Mans Prototype) car, an Indy car. It’s really for a rough overview, really, because normally when you watch on-boards, it just helps you learn which way the track goes and the big picture, really.”

The drivers and the teams in the GT class also will, for the most part, be Belle Isle newbees this weekend.

Jeff Segal, co-driver of the points leading Ferrari 459 Italia of AIM Autosport, said new will translate to interesting on race day.

“Belle Isle is a totally new experience for me, and that definitely makes things a bit more tense heading into the weekend,” Segal said. “Since the track is a temporary track, there’s obviously no chance to go testing and there isn’t much out there in the way of existing videos or notes to study. I’ve done what I can with the materials available, and I’ve also tried a few simulations of the track on the computer, but a simulation is always going to have a hard time capturing the nuance of a street course.”

Like Segal and Ferarri, Kevin Buckler and his TRG Porsche 911s, will be in enemy territory this weekend. But, the veteran team owner said, he’s glad the series is racing in Detroit.

“This is a city that understands the automobile and the huge role racing plays as part of that industry and history,” says Buckler. “This city has gone through a lot the last several years, and we are delighted to be part of the city’s and industry’s resurgence.”

The Corvette DP was unveiled to plenty of fanfare back in November as the first example of the next generation of GRAND-AM’s Daytona Prototype.

Now, the new car is living up to expectations as GRAND-AM heads to Detroit.

Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia gave the Corvette DP its first victory in Round 2 of the 2012 season at Barber Motorsports Park in March in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona entry. Since then, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor scored back-to-back victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway and New Jersey Motorsports Park in the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP.

The Ford vs. Chevy rivalry will continue this weekend, one race after bad blood spilled over into a post-race press conference at New Jersey.

With three victories, Chevrolet now holds the lead in the DP manufacturers’ championship over Ford, which opened the season with a podium sweep at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Entering Saturday’s Chevrolet GRAND-AM Detroit 200, the Bow Tie Brigade holds an eight-point lead over the Blue Oval, 131-123.

Back-to-back victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway and New Jersey Motorsports Park put Ferrari atop the Rolex Series GT manufacturer’s championship. The latter victory broke a tie to move the Italian automobile manufacturer into the championship lead over Porsche, 128-123, with Mazda third at 117.

Second at Barber Motorsports Park, Segal and Emil Assentato brought the No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari to victory lane at both Miami and New Jersey – also moving them to the lead in the GT championship.

Chip Ganassi Racing DP driver Scott Pruett has fond memories of racing in Detroit – enjoying success both at the original street course near the Renaissance Center and the current Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

“Detroit and Belle Isle were real big for me,” Pruett said. “I won my first CART pole position there, back in 1996. I also had some big races downtown, winning for Jack Roush in 1987.”

Pruett tangled with Willy T. Ribbs on the last lap while fighting for the lead in the 1988 Trans-Am race. Hurley Haywood went on to win, with Pruett finishing season.

Pruett finished second in the 1989 CART event on the downtown circuit – his career best in open wheel racing at the time – and finished third in the 1995 race at Belle Isle. He recorded five top-10 CART finishes on the Detroit circuits.

Pruett is looking for another strong race at Belle Isle to get back into the battle for the 2012 Daytona Prototype championship. He and Memo Rojas – looking for their fourth title in five years co-driving the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley, entered the recent race at New Jersey Motorsports Park leading the points. Midway through the event, Pruett tangled with Alex Gurney while battling for second, with the resulting 10th-place finish dropping the TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates duo from first to sixth in the DP standings – nine points behind the leaders.

The list of GT contenders for Saturday’s Detroit 200 at Belle Isle got deeper with the addition of the No. 03 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458.

Lead drivers Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek will race the No. 03 Tequila Patron Ferrari in its third appearance of the season, looking to extend Ferrari’s lead in the Rolex Series GT manufacturer’s championship.

Sharp is a two-time winner in Detroit, winning SCCA Trans-Am races in 1990 and 1991 on the original downtown circuit. He won the 1996 Rolex 24 At Daytona, the year he was co-champion of the IRL’s inaugural season. Van Overbeek was the 2007 Porsche Cup winner, awarded to the world’s top independent Porsche driver.

Joined by Ed Brown and Guy Cosmo, Sharp and van Overbeek finished 11th in the debut of their new Ferrari in the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Brown and Cosmo most recently finished 13th at Homestead-Miami.

Another new GT entry this weekend is the Michael Baughman Racing No 46 Matick Chevrolet Corvette of Michael Baughman and Jeff Nowicki. A veteran Corvette specialist, Nowicki has been racing professionally since 1990, competing for owners including Billy Hagan and Tommy Morrison. Baughman has competed in GRAND-AM since the series’ inception in 2000, and is a six-time entrant in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The team most recently finished 40th in the Rolex 24 this January.

The inaugural Belle Isle event probably couldn’t come at a better time for Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, who are bidding to return to the form that saw them win the 2007 and 2009 DP championships.

Gurney and Fogarty showed the potential of their new “Red Dragon” Corvette with a second-place finish at Barber, and come to Detroit eighth in the standings, trailing by 23 points.

Gurney has one prior race at the Belle Isle circuit. He raced there in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 1998, when he recovered from an incident early in the race to score a top-10 finish.

The son of racing legend Dan Gurney has already visited Detroit this spring. He took part in a media tour in April, highlighted by throwing out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers baseball game.

Line-up change: Action Express Racing has adjusted its line-up. Darren Law will now join Joao Barbosa in the No. 9 Corvette DP; David Donohue will share the No. 5 Corvette DP with Terry Borcheller.

Earlier this week, GRAND-AM Road Racing announced plans to add a third class to compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series, beginning with the 2013 season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.

The new class, to be called “GX,” will join the series’ headlining Daytona Prototype (DP) and the production-based Grand Touring (GT) classes. The models – and some manufacturers – will be unique to GX.

The production-based GX competition will feature cars and technologies not currently involved in the Rolex Series. Rules are being developed to allow for the exploration of a wide variety of alternative technologies and alternative fuels. This could include turbocharged engines; fuels other than gasoline, such as clean diesels; and hybrid powertrains.

The class will be developed with performance levels that complement the current DP and GT classes. No changes to GT performance levels are expected.

Announcements regarding specific manufacturer participation in GX competition are expected in the near future.

“A number of OEMs have expressed their desire to field cars that wouldn’t fit within our current two-class structure, so it makes good sense for us to find a way to accommodate those desires and in the process make something that’s already great – the Rolex Series – even better,” said GRAND-AM President and CEO Ed Bennett.

“When there are manufacturers looking to compete, we need to find a model that works to include them in the Rolex Series. It’s good for the fans, providing another whole group of exciting cars they can relate to. And the fact that the GX class will get to debut at the Rolex 24 just adds to the anticipation and excitement.”

The data

The Race: Chevrolet GRAND-AM Detroit 200 at Belle Isle presented by Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers

The Place: Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Mich.

The Date/Time: Saturday, 5:05 p.m. ET

The Track: 2.1-mile road course

The Race Length: 2 hours

TV: SPEED, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET – LIVE

Radio: MRN Radio, Saturday, 4:45 p.m. ET – LIVE

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 1 2012
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