Grand Prix of Kansas Notebook

Considering that he is Dutch and drives a Prototype Challenge class car for a top TUDOR United SportsCar Championship team and is coming off his first victory in the class, Renger van der Zande has a dream that sounds kind of bizarre.

"My dream," the 28-year-old wheelman for Starworks Motorsports said, "is to one day drive in NASCAR."

Say what?

“Really," he said Saturday afternoon as he rested up for Saturday night’s two-segment race on the Kansas Speedway road course. "It’s really fast and when something starts to get dangerous, I really start liking it."

Van der Zande, who, along with teammate Mirco Schultis won at Laguna Seca a month ago, admits he doesn’t know much about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In fact, he had some questions about it. One question was, “How many chassis does each team have?"

Told that the top teams have stacks of them, van der Zande flinched.

"Really? Can somebody give me one?" he said.

For sports car purists, Prototype Challenge cars are not among the sexiest in racing. Though fast and racy and offer very exciting competition, purists tend toward high-tech, non-spec.

But there is one PC car in the paddocks this year that is getting big attention. It’s the No. 8 Starworks car. It’s getting the attention because it has been fast, yes, but also because of the livery.

The car, driven by van der Zande and Mirco Schultis, is sporting the iconic red, white and blue striped Martini Racing paint scheme.


“Iconic," van der Zande stressed. “People come up and take pictures, want to see it. I have never seen anything like that before."

The Martini livery – named after one-time sponsor Martini and Rossi, an adult beverage producer – adorned some of the most famous sports cars in history. It debuted in 1962 on an Alfa Romeo at Sebring.

From there it moved to the Porsche 907.

Martini Racing and its paint scheme then adorned a series of Porsches over the years, including the legendary 917 prototype in the early 1970s.

Asked his favorite Martini car, van der Zande, a native of the Netherlands, said, “the Lancia rally car."

Van der Zande is, after all, a native of a part of the world where rallying is king.

The colors returned to Victory Lane on a sports car at Laguna Seca last month when the Starworks car won at that California road circuit.

“It’s been a winner for us," van der Zande said. “I think we should keep it."

The unique format being used for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Kansas has raised a lot of eyebrows for fans and competitors alike.

One very positive aspect of the two-segment Prototype Challenge and Prototype Lites format, which dictates that the amateur members of driving tandems qualify their cars on Friday night and also race the first of the 45-minutes segments on Saturday night, was how it put the lesser-known amateurs into the spotlight.

After Friday night’s PC qualifying session, for example, Chris Cumming of RSR Racing was brought into the Kansas Speedway media center for the “honor" of being interviewed as the pole winner.

Normally, the pro drivers on the teams – in the case of Cumming’s No. 08 team, that would be IndyCar star Alex Tagliani – are in the seat for qualifying and then brought to chat with the media.

“Absolutely," RSR team owner Paul Gentilozzi said when asked if it was good that the Kansas format allowed Cumming to get some publicity. “He (Cumming) earned it."

Cumming appeared to be enjoying his trip to the media center as well.

“It’s been a couple years since I qualified and what a thrill to get back out there and really have to put it all on the line," the native of Vancouver, British Columbia said. It’s a different format, of course, but I get to start out front and bring it to Alex in the same spot and set him up for race two."

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge driver Chad McCumbee always knows when the movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story" airs on television. It’s the funny looks he gets from total strangers.

McCumbee, who drives a Mazda MX 5 in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series’ Street Tuner class for CJ Wilson Racing, had a role in that movie. A starring role. A starring role playing one of American racing’s biggest stars.

McCumbee played the part of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the critically acclaimed bio pic.

While McCumbee does look a lot like Junior, it was not his looks that got him the part. And while McCumbee, who was an instructor at a high performance driving school at the time, is a very talented wheelman, it was not that skill set that got him the part.

“They were having a hard time finding somebody with a drawl," the native of Supply, N.C., said.

“I got lucky. I really didn’t have to act. I just had to be myself. I had a dialogue coach and acting coach, but I just had to be myself."

Actually, he just had to be Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he did that well. So says Junior himself.

“I made sure he was cool with it," McCumbee said. “He gave me the thumbs up and we did it."

McCumbee’s pro driving career started in 2004, the same year the movie came out. It started in ARCA, where he won three races in 70 starts, and moved to NASCAR. There he raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – mostly for Richard Petty’s team – the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

Unable to get the right breaks in NASCAR, he gravitated to sports cars and now is one of the top drivers in his class. He and CJ Wilson Racing teammate Stevan McAleer currently sit atop the point standings.

But every so often, the movie is replayed by ESPN and the odd looks begin all over again.

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