Grand-Am Belle Isle Race Preview
After a month long break, teams are ready to get back on track and continue the fight for the championship. Competition in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series is both intense and exciting and figures to become even more so on Saturday when teams visit the 2013 schedule's only street course for the Chevrolet GRAND-AM 200 at Belle Isle Park in Detroit.
A month's break in the 2013 campaign has given DP and GT teams the opportunity to assess what worked and what didn't over the first four races. It's a given they'll return to the track hoping to extend championship leads or to overhaul the pace setters.
In the Daytona Prototype class, the reigning champion No. 01 BMW/Riley of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is in a familiar spot – first – but co-drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas know that in June this guarantees them nothing.
The team is working on three consecutive podium finishes and Pruett has history on his side in the Motor City. He won an IMSA GTO race for Jack Roush in 1987, when the cars raced through the downtown streets. At Belle Isle, he won his first CART pole and finished second in the 1989 event.
The No. 01 finished third a year ago – one spot ahead of perennial rival and former champion GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's No. 99 Corvette DP driven by veterans Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney. The Red Dragon team stands second in DP standings, seven points behind the Ganassi squad.
"Overall, we are at a B-grade level so far this season," said Fogarty, who sat on the Belle Isle pole a year ago with a lap time of 1 minute 22.369 seconds and led the first 19 laps of the race. "We certainly are in a good position relative to years' past but that is not a very good measure.
"The crew has done an 'A' job on pit stops and strategy; no faults there, and I am really proud of our guys. Our pace has been good but not dominant. We have been off the ideal setup a few times and made the most of it but with the level of competition you really need to fire on all cylinders all the time to win this championship."
Partner Gurney looks forward to Saturday's race and hopes to put a second win in the books alongside GAINSCO's inaugural Circuit of The Americas victory earlier in the season.
"The track has a slightly different configuration with the longer straight this time but I think the Red Dragon will be fast as usual," said Gurney. "I'm a big fan of the Belle Isle street circuit. It's not just 90-degree corners all the time (and) it has some real character to it – especially the very fast Turn 1-2 section that has some nice elevation change.
"I've seen some in-car video of some of the recent pace car rides on the new track configuration and can see where they've done some repaving as well. With the extra straight we should have one more very good passing spot."
The GT class enters the summer portion of the schedule with a furious points battle – but what is new about that?
Newcomer Scuderia Corsa has raced to the top of the points on the strength of four top-four finishes. Alessandro Balzan also leads the driver standings.
But in Scuderia Corsa's wake it's chaos: Just 11 points separate the top six teams. The No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3, helmed by Andy Lally and John Potter is a single point behind in second.
Then there's the No. 57 Chevy Camaro GT.R of Stevenson Motorsports. Co-drivers John Edwards and Robin Liddell are the hottest pairing in the class, having captured back-to-back victories at Barber Motorsports Park and Road Atlanta. Stevenson and Edwards/Liddell are third in owner/driver standings, eight points behind the leaders.
Stevenson finished third in last year's race won by the No. 88 Camaro GT.R of Jordan Taylor/Paul Edwards. That bodes well for Stevenson's Detroit-manufactured equipment although team manager Mike Johnson brings mixed feelings to Saturday's race.
"Our car has never really liked long straights but it does love bumps and curves which is why we have always been so strong at Montreal and Detroit last year," he said. "Plus, our car is very good on the brakes and keeping the brakes cool on a street course is crucial."
Like most athletic coaches and managers, Johnson isn't thumping his chest over the team's back-to-back victories. In fact, he's ignoring the feat.
"As for three in a row, I don't really think about it," he said. "We enter every race with the plan to win and sometimes we can pull it off and sometimes we can't. Our team is performing very well right now but it's easy to forget we started the year with a DNF and a 15th.
"You learn over time not to get excited about the wins or you'll be devastated by the losses."
SPEED will televise the Belle Isle race at 5 p.m. ET with the Motor Racing Network's coverage streaming on grand-am.com at 12:15 ET.