Rolex Sports Car Series: Three Championships Decided at Lime Rock Finale
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The Rolex Sport Car Series ran the last race of the 2013 season and the least race of the series at Lime Rock Park on Saturday, Sep. 28, and it was a race worthy of capping off the series’ thirteen-year run.
The championships for all three classes—Daytona Prototype, GT, and GX—were on the line at the Rolex Championship Weekend event. While GX wasn’t close—BGB Porsche merely needed to complete half an hour to score points and take the win, in DP and GT several teams were close enough to take the title.
Taylor, Angelelli Win DP Title
Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli won the Daytona Prototype championship for Wayne Taylor Racing’s #10 Velocity Worldwide Dallara-Chevrolet, scoring five race wins on the season and three in a row, including Lime Rock, to cap their efforts. It was Angelelli’s second title—he won in 2005 with Wayne Taylor co-driving—and the first for Taylor’s 22-year-old son Jordan.
At Lime Rock Taylor showed the speed and maturity which helped earn the title. Angelelli took the car to the lead on lap 58 and handed off to Taylor on lap 63. Taylor rejoined in fourth and worked his way to the front, taking the lead when Gustavo Yacaman pitted on lap 105, just over halfway through the race.
Five laps later a collision between two GT cars brought out a full-course caution, erasing Taylor’s ten-second lead. Unruffled, Taylor made a perfect restart and drove away from the field, opening an 11-second margin in twenty laps.
Taylor wasn’t to get an easy ride, though. Another collision and caution with eight minutes left turned the race into a three-lap shootout, with five-time champion Scott Pruett starting third.
Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas were eight points down in the championship; to take the title Taylor would have to make a big mistake and finish no better than fifth with Pruett winning. Between the two lay Gustavo Yacaman in the #6 Shank Riley-Ford, a car which had led much of the race and a team which was desperate for a win to save a difficult season.
Taylor acted as if the restart didn’t matter—he calmly got his typical excellent start, and like three-time F1 champ Sebastian Vettel, again simply drove away from the field, getting every bit of grip out of his cold tires. When the checkered flag flew three laps later he was already five seconds clear of the field.
Pruett and Rojas in the #01 Telmex-Ganassi Riley-BMW finished third on the day and second in the championship—a creditable result considering that the team had had a rough first half of the season.
Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the #99 Gainsco Riley Chevrolet came into the race third in points. Fogarty got overeager on the first lap and ran off the track, which pushed the team back into the pack.
Gurney was fighting hard but still mired in ninth when the Richard Westbrook in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Riley-Chevrolet nudged the second-placed GT car, Pat Long in the #73 Park Place Porsche. Long spun right in front of Gureny, who had no place to go. The Gainsco Red Dragon limped back to the pits and retired less than ten minutes form the end of the race.
Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa in the #5 Action Express Riley-BMW came into the weekend fourth in points, just 13 behind the leaders, but they too were stricken with bad luck. An off after 45 minutes of racing filled the grille with grass, causing the car to overheat. Fittipaldi brought the car in and handed off to Barbosa, who only made it one lap before the overstressed engine let go, ending the team’s title hopes.
Balzan, Scuderia Corsa Ferrari Luck Into GT Title
The title fight in GT was as close as in DP with 16 points separating the top four contenders.
Magnus Racing’s #44 Porsche led the chase by only four points coming into the Lime Rock race—they needed to finish second if the second-placed Scuderia Corse team won. Drivers John potter and Andy Lally had been quick and consistent all year long, and were ready and eager for the challenge.
Fate struck them down before the second lap was over. Richie Stanaway in the #66 TRG Aston Martin ran wide exiting Turn Two; when he rejoined, he cut across the nose of the #44, spinning Potter. Scott Dolahite’s #11 GX-class SDR/Lotus Racing Evora plowed into Potter, destroying the Porsche’s front end, and ending the season for Magnus Racing.
The championship fight was then between Balzan and co-driver Leh Keen in the #63 Scuseria Corse Ferrari, and the #57 Stevenson Camaro of John Edwards and Robin Liddell. The Stevenson Camaro cut a tire and overran Turn One an hour into the race, which cost the car a lap and took it out of contention.
Next in line was the #69 Aim/FXDD Ferrari of Anthony Lazarro and Emil Assentato, twelve points back. To win the title this pair would need to win the class while the Scuderia Corse car finished no better than eighth.
Balzan and Keen tried their best to avoid confrontations (thought Balzan did come together with the #61 Aim/Ferri Ferrari—the #61 car was penalized for what looked to be the #63 car’s fault, but no Ferrari team owner—particularly one who was out of the title chase—would protest a call which took the championship form another Ferrari team.)
Balzan piloted the car perfectly through the rest of the race, finishing second in class and taking the title.
Rolex Is Dead; Long Live TUSCC
The Rolex Sports car series has run its course. After 14 seasons of never attracting many fans or making any money, the series has merged with the American Le Mans Series, which attracted a lot of fans but never made any money through its 14-year history.
The two series will be combined into a single North American endurance racing league, the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, sponsored by Tudor Watches, and offshoot of Rolex.
The new series hopes to combine the best parts of both series: the exciting cars and ardent fans from the ALMS plus the steadfast teams, stable structure, and big-budget promotion and TV of the NASCAR-funder Rolex Series.
The new series is having its teething troubles, as one would expect. Two very different racing series with widely disparate operating philosophies, as well as technical requirements, cannot be neatly folded together. Everyone wants to benefit, no one wants to pay.
As with most human endeavors, ego, not any specific technical difficulties, have been the biggest obstacles. Still, the new management is doing a decent (if dangerously slow) job of keeping everybody on board while still creating a product fans will pay to see.
Design regulations for the top class have yet to be announced, which is hurting the series and some of the teams: teams cannot approach sponsors without budgets, and cannot make budgets if they don’t know which cars will be legal.
Progress is being made; the Rolex Daytona Prototypes will need to be upgraded with new aero parts it seems, and will be allowed to make more power, while the ALMS P2 cars will have to run spec Continental tires. The details might conceal numerous devils, but the heaviest parts seem to have been lifted into place.
The new series kicks off with the Rolex 24 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 25–25, 2014. Get your tickets now, because this, the first race of a new era of sports car competition, is guaranteed to be popular.
Tickets and info are available through the Daytona International Speedway website.