Perhaps lost or overlooked following the monumental news this week that the Grand-Am Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series are set to merge for 2014 is the fact Grand-Am's got a race this weekend. The second-to-last round of the season, a two-hour, 45-minute blast held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, could decide both the Daytona Prototype and GT class championships.
In DP, TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas are 18 points clear of Ryan Dalziel, and would almost certainly need to fail to finish with Dalziel's Starworks Riley-Ford scoring a victory. GT leaders Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato (AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458) have en even bigger gap, 29 points clear of Turner BMW's Paul Dalla Lana.
Starworks adds a gunner to take down the lone Ganassi car, but the team's third Riley-Ford is a second-gen chassis and saddled with amateur driver Scott Mayer alongside Colin Braun, the pair back in Grand-Am for the first time since the Sahlen's Six Hours at the Glen at the start of July. Braun can make up for the deficiencies but probably won't be able to make too many inroads into the leading class contenders.
Sentimental favorites going into the weekend has to be the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP, the only full-season DP team without a victory this season. Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty make the team's 99th series start in the team's No. 99 “Red Dragon.”
The start is backed up by a perfect storm of appropriate ironies and winning familiarity that the team hopes will lead them right to victory lane for the first time this season. Gurney and Fogarty have won the last two trips to Monterey, while the team made its series debut at this track in 2005. Californians Gurney and Fogarty also consider Laguna their home and earned their first podium finish as teammates in Monterey in just their second race together in 2006. This weekend's race is also appropriately being run on Sept. 9, the ninth day of the ninth month – perhaps a lucky “99” – in the 2012 calendar year.
“The number 99 has become synonymous with our team, so I think it is a neat little piece of history to know that this is our 99th race,” said Gurney, who has been with GAINSCO from the beginning and is the only driver to participate in every race. “I will always look back at 2005 as a great memory when we first hit the track with the Daytona Prototype. Everything was new to us but the car was so fast that day, we had a chance to win in our very first race.”
The rest of the DP numbers are as usual – Starworks' other two cars feature lineups last utilized at Watkins Glen in August (Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Popow, then Dalziel and Lucas Luhr) with the five Corvette DPs seeking to end a three-race winless streak that dates to the Glen in July when Joao Barbosa and Darren Law tasted victory for Action Express. Paul Tracy gets another start alongside David Donohue in the sister Action Express Corvette; his one-time potential IndyCar partner Michael Shank rounds out the class with the normal Ozz Negri/John Pew pairing in their Riley Ford.
GT jumps from the 12 entries that raced in Montreal last race to a more normal 17. Two more Ferraris are entered – Extreme Speed makes another start this time with Johannes van Overbeek and fellow Californian Mike Hedlund – while a new entrant, Scuderia Corsa, is listed but without drivers as yet. The Racers Edge/Vehicle Technologies Viper, third Sahlen's Mazda RX-8 and Horton Autosport Porsche also return.
Magnus Racing enters Monterey with a humorous edge, having penned a parody press release this week announcing that “Magnus and Black Swan Racing might be announcing something” this weekend. On-track the North American Endurance Championship GT winners are seeking their third win, John Potter and Andy Lally having won the marquee rounds of the season at Daytona and Indianapolis.
Autohaus' Camaro is again sidelined, thus leaving Jordan Taylor also out of a ride this weekend, with Stevenson's Camaro set to carry the GM flag in class with John Edwards and Robin Liddell. Liddell is still on the fringes of title contention but needs help to stay there.
Lastly, the Mazda contingent will be looking to deliver a home victory. As ever, the SpeedSource RX-8 provides the best chance with Jonathan Bomarito and Sylvain Tremblay, although Dane Cameron could spring a surprise in one of the Sahlen's entries and Dempsey Racing is back to full strength with its two usual driver pairings. Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster race for the first time in Grand-Am since Watkins Glen in August, Foster having had a major accident at Turn 7 but emerging largely unscathed.
The Continental Tire Sports Car Festival powered by Mazda airs live on SPEED on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.