Traditionally one of the hotter races on the Grand-Am Rolex Series schedule, the fourth round of the 2012 season at New Jersey Motorsports Park this weekend will be a welcome relief for the series' teams after the deluge at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks ago.
New Jersey's temperatures, expected to be in the mid-70s, are about 20 to 25 degrees down on the heat the last several years, but warmer than the cold, damp conditions in Florida. The race moves from the late summer date at the end of July to mid-May for 2012 as well.
As it's also a return to a traditional road course after the series' second “roval” event of the year, teams can stretch their legs on the flowing New Jersey circuit even though passing areas are rather sparse.
Both the DP and GT championships are tightly bunched and while Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has yet to record a win in 2012, the duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas enter as DP class points leaders and defending race champions.
Only nine points separate the Pruett/Rojas pairing and the group tied for sixth, Action Express' David Donohue and Darren Law and Miami winners SunTrust Racing with Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor. SunTrust and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing completed the podium behind Ganassi at New Jersey a year ago; at 15 points back, GAINSCO's Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, 2010 New Jersey winners, need to make hay before they fall even further behind.
Sandwiched in-between are each of the Starworks pairs, Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio, and Alex Popow and Lucas Luhr, Barber winners Spirit of Daytona with Antonio Garcia and Richard Westbrook, and Daytona winners Michael Shank Racing with Ozz Negri and John Pew.
The circumstances are a bit complex for some of the DP drivers, as several are competing on the other coast for the American Le Mans Series' race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Garcia's tied up with Corvette ALMS commitments so Michael Valiante has his first start in the Corvette DP alongside Westbrook. Luhr and Popow, meanwhile, are expected to compete in both races, and take a red-eye flight Saturday night from Monterey to New Jersey.
Although it's the only grandfathered second-generation DP in the field, rest assured the returning Doran Racing Dallara-Ford of neurosurgeon Dr. Jim Lowe and Paul Tracy will be worth watching. The Doran inclusion brings the DP field back to double digits for the first time since Daytona.
GT's also particularly close, with nine points separating the top five pairs of drivers. AIM Autosport Team FXDD enters seeking its first dry race victory with its Ferrari 458 after recording the wet win at Miami. Drivers Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato lead the two top Porsche squads, Magnus Racing (John Potter/Andy Lally) and Brumos Racing (Andrew Davis/Leh Keen) by three and five points respectively. Lally continues to search of his 100th career Grand-Am podium.
New Jersey has been Mazda's dream race the last two seasons – the RX-8 has swept the podium both in 2010 and 2011, with SpeedSource's Jonathan Bomarito and Sylvain Tremblay seeking their third straight win at the track. Although the car still trails the Ferraris, Porsches and others on outright pace, the SpeedSource team's strategy can keep the car in contention.
Mazda also had a podium at Miami thanks to Team Sahlen's efforts with Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker driving. That result vaulted them to seventh in points, behind the SpeedSource pair in sixth.
Camaro and BMW are still seeking their first wins of 2012 after three manufacturers have won the first three rounds. Stevenson Camaro's John Edwards returns after a two-race absence due to injury, leaving Ronnie Bremer sidelined, while the Autohaus squad of presumptive preseason title favorites Jordan Taylor and Paul Edwards have yet to better a sixth-place finish in class in three races.
BMW has finished fifth in each of the last two races with Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana; Billy Johnson is also listed alongside as Auberlen races in Monterey.
Audi will have at least two of its R8s – while APR Motorsport looks to translate pace into its first top 10 for Dion von Moltke and Dr. Jim Norman, finish the new Limitless Racing team debuts with 2011 SCCA Spec Miata National Champion Elivan Goulart and Dr. Jason Lee for its home race. Oryx Racing's Audi, which missed Miami, appears set to miss this race as well.
CONTINENTAL TIRE SPORTS CAR CHALLENGE
Rum Bum Racing has won the last two races in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge with its new Porsche Carrera, and despite a stacked field within the GS class, drivers Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi are out to a 13-point lead over a pair of Fall-Line Motorsports BMWs. Daytona winners Billy Johnson and Jack Roush Jr. are fifth in the highest Ford Mustang Boss 302R.
In ST, despite no wins, Kinetic Motorsports' Kia drivers Andy Lally and Nic Jonsson lead the standings with a pair of second-place finishes to open the year. If Lally scores his 100th Grand-Am podium in the Kia first, his Magnus Racing team manager Shannon Davis will don Kia's “hamster suit” in deference to Kia's series of ads featuring the hamster. Meanwhile if Lally's Rolex team scores the podium first, Jonsson will wear the suit. It's an intriguing subplot to the racing.
Some of the other contenders include Jayson Clunie and Pierre Kleinubing in the i-MOTO MAZDASPEED 3 and Compass360's Ryan Eversley and Ray Mason in a Honda Civic Si, and the BimmerWorld BMW 328i of David Levine and Gregory Liefooghe. The former two pairings currently rest second and third in points, while the Levine/Liefooghe BMW won in the rain at Barber. Miami winners Ryan Ellis and Martin Jensen are not currently entered.
• The Rolex Series Global Barter 250 airs live on SPEED Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
• The Continental Challenge race from New Jersey Motorsports Park will air on SPEED on May 26 at 2 p.m. ET