July 19, 2013 | By Matt Cleary
Daytona Prototype, GT Teams To Fight For Bonuses In NAEC Finale
The Brickyard Grand Prix on Friday, July 26 will not only mark Round 8 of the 2013 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship, but the racers will also have something extra to fight for.
In fact, 150,000 extra things to fight for.
The three-hour Rolex Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also the third and final round in the North American Endurance Championship presented by VISITFLORIDA.com, also known as the NAEC.
Now in its second year, the NAEC is staged as a “championship within a championship,” similar to the new IZOD IndyCar Series “Triple Crown,” with three select events making up its championship.
With the opening round of the NAEC being the Rolex 24 At Daytona, round two at Watkins Glen, and the finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NAEC runs a veritable all-star roster of greatest tracks that GRAND-AM visits.
Last year was the first edition of the long-distance championship, and the Brickyard Grand Prix finale saw Starworks Motorsport emerge from a wet and wild race to score a huge, history-making victory to leapfrog its championship nemesis Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and score the inaugural NAEC title.
That victory, and the $100,000 in NAEC spoils, capped a storybook season for Starworks that also included a podium at Daytona, a World Endurance Championship and class victories at Le Mans and Sebring.
So how exactly does the NAEC pick a winner? Follow along.
Each of the three races has a maximum of a 20-point payout.
At the Rolex 24, points are awarded four times during the race, giving teams the chance to net points long before the checkered flag falls. At the six-, 12-, 18-, and 24-hour marks, the top-five teams score up to five points. So if a team led the race at the six- and 12-hour marks, but then blew up after that, they would at least bring home 10 points to go along with the story about how their car failed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
For the Sahlen’s Six Hours at Watkins Glen, the points are counted based on running position at the halfway mark (three hours) and at the finish. This meant that some teams paid close attention to the clock at a time when they normally wouldn’t, just to score an advantage.
“You need to have a strategy to be upfront for the mid-race points payouts – like the Glen six-hour pays points at the three-hour mark,” said Starworks owner Peter Baron. "You need to be up front for that. Last year, Action Express had a low-key Daytona 24 but led both parts of (the Glen) and left the event with the NAEC lead. So we need to do well there and hopefully win again at Indy.”
For the Brickyard Grand Prix, the points payout is very simple. It is winner-take-all as the finishing order at the end of three hours is all that matters, with a healthy $100,000 bonus going to the team that takes the title.
So who has the hot hand heading into the Speedway?
The Ganassi squad, which includes full-time runners Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 01 BMW/Riley, opened the year with a perfect NAEC sweep at Daytona, leading at the six-, 12-, 18- and 24-hour marks to score a perfect 20 out of 20. But round two's run to fifth place at Watkins Glen left the duo four points adrift of the Action Express Racing squad and drivers in the NAEC standings.
“Hopefully we can shake the bad luck off,” Pruett said. “Time and time again I've seen it cycle out. Needless to say, it's been a bit frustrating, but we're looking forward."
Last year’s Brickyard Grand Prix race winner, Sebastian Bourdais, added to the drama heading into this year’s Brickyard. He bolted from the Starworks squad to join the new 8Star Motorsports for the final five races of the season, including the Brickyard Grand Prix.
"The No. 3 car [driven by Enzo Potolicchio, Stephane Sarrazin and Michael Valiante] has been pretty racey the past couple of races, and the No. 4 is pretty much the same car, so I'm pretty excited about the prospects to drive for a new team that's sorting itself out pretty quickly,” said Bourdais, who will co-drive with Emilio DiGuida at Indianapolis.
But the NAEC battle will not be all about the Daytona Prototypes. With $50,000 going to the title winner, the GT class battle once again should be just as competitive as the DP runners. The field includes envy-causing machines like the Ferrari F430, Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette, making this class a fan favorite with close racing and amazing cars.
Last year, Magnus Racing bolstered its dream season that included a Rolex 24 At Daytona win with a victory at the Brickyard, launching the team to the top of the NAEC charts to score a chance to lock lips with the Yard of Bricks, and $50,000 to boot.
Heading into the final round for the GT class, just two points separate the top two runners, with the top six contenders all within 10 points.
Stevenson Motorsports is riding a hot wave in its Camaro GT.R. After getting unceremoniously dumped into the wall by the No. 01 DP last year at the Brickyard, the Stevenson team has good reason to be hungry for vindication and victory Friday at IMS.
But to do so, the red, white and blue Camaro must take on a bevy of exotics, starting with the AIM Autosport Team FXDD with Ferrari, which won the Rolex Series GT Class championship last year, as well as the deep efforts of the Audi R8 that is backed up by the Audi Sport customer racing squad.
So, remember that there isn’t just one reason to catch the final round of NAEC competition – there are 150,000 of them!
North American Endurance Championship, Daytona Prototype top-five
1 Action Express Racing 32
2 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates 28
3 8Star Motorsports 24
4 Wayne Taylor Racing 23
5 Starworks with Alex Popow 19
North American Endurance Championship, GT top-five
1 Stevenson Motorsports 28
2 AIM Autosport Team FXDD with Ferrari 26
3 Audi Sport customer racing 22
4 Scuderia Corsa 21
5 Marsh Racing 20