Grand-Am – Review and Comments from SFP Grand Prix at Kansas Speedway

2013_grandam-ks_079_tons

The weather was incredible at Kansas Speedway for the SFP Grand Prix, the qualifying and practice in the afternoon/evening was nice change of pace. At first the course did not seem like it would be too demanding and I wondered if the layout would provide exciting racing. The very tight infield made it difficult to pass in most areas except turn 4 and off the banking into turn 1. Being a local guy from Kansas I was hoping this venue would provide good racing and exciting exchanges, I think the track delivered, but in person spectating requires choosing a good spot to take in the race as all spots are not created equal at this track. The night portion of the race also created a bit of excitement, there really is something about seeing headlights and glowing brake rotors that makes a night race unique.

This season seems as though it is the championship that nobody really wants to win, we are seeing veteran teams either make mistakes or just encounter dumb luck. This outing in the center of the country really has not done much to change that dynamic this year and some of the commentary below may bear that out. To start Memo Rojas led the field from the green after taking the pole position by setting the fasted time in Friday qualifying. Tension filled the air because starting 2nd and right next to Rojas was Gustavo Yacaman in the number 6,

there have been several on track incidents this season that have created lots of frustration for the both teams and annimosity between the drivers. On the first lap the point’s leader and number 2 of Popov complicated his day when he entered a bit wide into turn 4 and spun the car without any contact from other drivers. At about the same time the #5 Action Express Corvette being piloted by Christian Fittipaldi took the lead from Rojas heading into turn 6. While Alex gathered his car back up, he rejoined the track just about equal with the top 3 in the GT class. Tagliani in the number 61 Ferrari led Lee Keen’s #63 Ferrari in the early stages with John Edwards in the #57 Camaro following just about one second behind. The next incident came about 15 minutes into the race when Rojas in the BMW Riley closed the gap and was hounding Fittripaldi’s #5. Entering turn 4 the Action Express car pushed a little wide and opened the door for Rojas to stick his nose in, however the move was a bit optimistic and, Fittipaldi ended up spinning in turn 4 after contact from Memo Rojas. The damage on the #01 resulting from the contact with Fittipaldi, left the body work damaged and allowed Yacaman to drive past and left the ailing Riley chassis vulnerable to John Fogarty in the Red Dragon and Max Angilleli in the Velocity worldwide car. The damage to the #01 was minimal; however the 60 second stop and hold penalty put the Rojas/Pruett team down a lap from the field. The sharp end of the GT field soldiered on during these DP shenanigans and John Edwards drove up into 2nd place right between two Red Ferraris.

The day just got worse for #2 Starworks car, the rear was a bit loose and with Popov still driving he spun between turn 3 and turn 4 backing the car into the wall damaging the left rear and tearing off the rear wing. Shortly thereafter in GT class the #31 Whelen Corvette had driveline issues, and brought out a caution. This caution was timely for some teams and allowed for cars to come to the pits and change drivers and do so just after the mandatory 30 minute driver minimum time threshold was met. Most of the DP cars pitted at this time except for the #01 Ganassi car which stayed out on track and got the drive by ultimately allowing them to get back on the lead lap. With a bit of strategy, the Ganassi team pulled the 01 to pit at the end of the caution and allowed them torepair the early damage to the nose of the car and changed drivers to allow Scott Pruett to take the wheel. A couple of the GT cars had an interesting paint exchange coming out of the pits when Patrick Long and Alex Tagliani could not agree on who should have led the GT field for the green flag, the drivers apparently thought a couple minor exchanges of paint would settle the argument. The #73 Park Place Porsche of Patrick Long and the #61 of Tagliani battled for the GT lead for several laps and were followed closely by the #69 FXDD Ferrari and #63 Ferrari and the #44 Flex Box Porsche. In GX class the two SkyActive Diesel Mazdas had the best of the Porsche Caymen for most of the race up to this point.

With about 1 hour and 45 minutes left the headlights started to come on and prepare for the night stages of the race at Kansas Speedway. Now that the sun had started to set the headlights were ablaze on Gustavo Yacaman’s #6 Ford, and he was leading the DP class with Wayne Taylor Racing’s number 10 followed closely behind and then Barbosa, Negri and Gurney round out the top 5. The GX class number 70 had a driveline issue and created another caution. The yellow flag created an opportunity for the many of the cars to come to the pits and change tires and in some cases even drivers. Leaving the pits Scott Pruett in the 01 was now in 6th place and turned the quickest lap of the night so far. The next notable incident was a tangle between the team 8Star #4 and the #99 Red Dragon entering turn 3 that also collected the 8Star team car #3. The Velocity Worldwide car drove to the front of the field and shortly thereafter as Pruett drove the 01 Ganassi car into 2nd place and Oz Negri hung on to third place. In GT the sharp end of the field was all red cars, the number 61 of Jeff Segal followed by the 69 of A. Lazarro and then the 63 of Balzan, a little deeper in the class the number 94 of Bill Auberlen had minor contact with a Porsche and spun the car, leaving him to try and push from the back end of the GT field. The rest of the race was a very exciting battle in Daytona Prototypes with Pruett chasing Jordan Taylor in a great battle. The last 15 or 20 laps were very exciting with tight battles in both GT and the DP classes. The number 10 Velocity Worldwide car held off the 01 of Ganassi with very clean driving and by using traffic and the Corvette speed out of the corners to its advantage. In GT class Allessandro Balzan and Lee Keen in the 63 held on to the lead followed by Patrick Long and P. Lindsey in the Park Place Porsche and then the FXDD Ferrari driven by Assentato and Lazzaro. In GX the 00 Mazda 6 with Nunez and Miller driving took the top spot followed by the number 38 Porsche Caymen driven by Jim Norman and Spencer Pumpelly.

Some people may think that luck finally turned around for Wayne Taylor and his team, however this spectator and writer doesn’t think it had as much to do with dumb luck, but more to do with the fact that on the Thursday before the event I personally ran into Wayne Taylor and a few of his crew at a local coffee shop. I took the opportunity to shake the team owners hand and wish him and his team good luck over the racing weekend. I might be a little biased on the reason for the number 10 having such a strong run, it had to be my wishes that helped. All joking aside there is no doubt; the 10 car had a great run in Kansas. I also have to believe that Ganassi finishing in 2nd place had to be a much better finishing spot than what they expected after contact on the 1st lap.

I am not sure if we will see United Sports Car leverage this facility in years to come, I certainly hope so, and I know my choice will be up in the Car Club Corral because the scenery behind you was almost as good as what was on the track.