Grand-Am series to make debut at Kansas Speedway

The new road course at Kansas Speedway will get its first real

taste of speed this weekend when the Grand-Am series visits the

2.37-mile circuit for the first time.

There’s a lot riding on Saturday night’s race, too.

The merger between the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the

American Le Mans Series announced earlier this year means Kansas

Speedway could be left out of a combined schedule next season. More

established venues such as Road Atlanta and Daytona are virtually

assured of dates, making it more difficult for a newcomer such as

Kansas to land a race weekend.

”The issue is simply math,” Kansas Speedway President Pat

Warren said. ”How many races are there going to be on the schedule

next year? How many places are they going to go, and which tracks

may or may not be included? I don’t think it’s a reflection on

Kansas Speedway. It’s not a reflection on the track or the market,

and it’s not a reflection on the long-term.”

Indeed, even if Kansas Speedway is left off the schedule of the

rebranded United SportsCar Racing series next year, Warren said it

would aggressively pursue future races.

”They have to make some decisions for 2014 that are some tough

decisions,” he said. ”As they try to figure out how they want to

grow the series, what they want to do to bring the two series

together, we just don’t know where we fit in that picture.”

Rather than focus on things they can’t control, Warren and his

team are focusing on what they can: a strong sports car debut that

could convince series powerbrokers to stick around.

Officials are anticipating a crowd of about 15,000 – and are

hopeful for more than 20,000 with good weather – for Saturday

night’s Grand-Am Rolex Series race. The 2-hour, 45-minute race

highlights two days of events at Kansas Speedway that also include

Saturday’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge developmental

series and two races in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series.

The early feedback from drivers about the surface has been

positive.

Daytona Prototypes were doing more than 190 mph on the main

track before reaching Turn 1, the most demanding on the circuit.

The tight left-hander sends cars through an S-curve and down the

back straightway before a hairpin turns sends them on the return.

They get back on the main track in Turn 2, head down the

backstretch and through Turns 3 and 4 to complete a lap.

”It’s a very challenging track, I can tell you,” said Max

Angelelli, a former Rolex series champion. ”It’s not like you

approach a corner, brake, turn, go back on throttle, and that’s it.

You have two corners that are extremely technical.”

Angelelli and teammate Jordan Taylor are chasing point leaders

Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow as they enter the 10th stop on the

12-race schedule. Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney are second in points

with familiar names such as Christian Fittipaldi and Scott Pruett

also giving chase.

”It’s one of the fastest tracks we’ve been to,” said Oswaldo

Negri Jr., who turned some of the quickest laps at Kansas during

last year’s testing session.

”It’s one of the hardest ovals that we have gone to. It is much

faster than Homestead or any of the others,” Negri said. ”There

aren’t many passing zones, but the track is fun to drive and we had

a good car when we tested there, so I am looking forward to being

back.”

In qualifying Friday night, Memo Rojas took the DP pole, and

Alex Tagliani topped the GT field. Rojas turned a fast lap of 1

minute, 9.883 seconds – averaging 122.09 mph – in the No. 01

BMW/Riley prototype he co-drives with Pruett.

Tagliani, an IndyCar regular, is substituting in the No. 61

Ferrari 458 with Max Papis running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series

this weekend. Tagliani is co-driving with Jeff Segal.

”My goal this weekend was to come in, support the team and give

Jeff a good position so we could try to win,” Tagliani said. ”I

was very apprehensive that I could learn the car quickly. … But

for me, coming to the Ferrari was like coming to an IndyCar. I

really enjoy this car, and it really suits my style.”

Tom Long took his third consecutive GX class pole in the No. 70

Mazda 6 he shares with Sylvain Tremblay.