There are quite a few weekends that motorsports fans mark on their collective calendars. The first weeked is in late January when the long offseason ends in Daytona for the Rolex 24. The next one would probably be in February when NASCAR resumes their long season, also in Daytona. Then, perhaps Sebring, possibly Le Mans, and of course the month of May for the Indy 500.
For the past several years, both NASCAR and GRAND-AM have competed in late July during the Brickyard 400 weekend. Racers from all over the world congregate in the “world center of racing” and battle to see which driver will have the honor to kiss the bricks!
The action starts on Friday, July 26, as teams compete in round seven of GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. It is a busy time of year for the series, and numerous teams have announced driver changes and additions for their summer classic event.
RSR Motorsports team owner Randall Smalley will return to the driver’s seat at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, pairing with Owen Trinkler in the No. 197 Cruise America/Thor Motor Coach Honda Civic Si in round seven of GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Smalley last drove at Indianapolis last year, when he and Chris Puskar finished third in the series’ inaugural race at the historic track. “It’s going to be fun to defend the team’s ST podium from last year!” says Smalley. “I’ve never driven the Honda at Indy, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve had a year off, so it will be nice to get back on track.”
Now, Smalley is once again teaming up with Trinkler. The last time they drove together, they earned two consecutive Street Tuner wins: New Jersey Motorsports Park and Trois-Rivieres in 2010.
“I’m really looking forward to driving with Owen again,” Smalley says. “I consider him one of best drivers in GRAND-AM. RSR Motorsports had success here last year, and I look forward to the opportunity to have success at Indy again.”
Trinkler echoes that thought, saying, “Let’s hope we have some more of our success together, especially since Randy has been on the podium already at Indy. He’s always so professional, and we have a great driving history together.”
In addition to the No. 197 Honda, the team will field Tom Dyer and Andrew Novich in the No. 196 US LED/Thor Motor Coach Honda, as well as Chris Puskar and Corey Fergus in the No. 198 Honda.
A little further down the historic gasoline alley, Freedom Autosport is ready for the event, with both of the teams Mazda MX-5s representing the MARSOC Foundation.
For Andrew Carbonell and Rhett O’Doski, the race will be an opportunity to continue their rise in the championship chase. The No. 26 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 is currently third in ST team points, just five points away from second.
Still, Carbonell says that the championship is not on their minds heading into Indy. “I’m taking each race one at a time and not worrying about the points. At every race, we just want a good result. That’s what wins a championship: having a good race every weekend, not making any mistakes, and being there at the end.”
O’Doski and Carbonell have an interesting challenge, though. Although GRAND-AM debuted at Indy last year, the No. 26 Mazda did not. A mechanical problem following the first practice forced the car to retire from the race.
“This race will be a real challenge for us,” says O’Doski. “Most of our competitors have raced at Indy already. That makes us more motivated, and especially eager to get on the podium.”
One advantage that they will have is that their Freedom Autosport teammates Derek Whitis and Tom Long did race at Indianapolis in 2012, finishing 13th. The co-drivers faced a setback at Watkins Glen in June, when the No. 25 Mazda MX-5 crashed early in the race.
“The Freedom Autosport crew has been working nonstop to get our Mazda in top form again,” says Whitis. “We had a great test last week, and we’re optimistic that we can improve on our previous finish at Indy.”
“Last year’s race at Indy included rain and a red flag, so I don’t think we’ve had a chance to show just how competitive we are there,” says Long. “Indy’s long straight has proven to be a challenge for us, but the MX-5 will excel in the infield.”
Watch the teams of the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge during the 2.5-hour race on Friday, July 26, at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Following the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge event, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Championship takes to the historic racetrack for the Brickyard Grand Prix. There are numerous changes and driver additions that have been announced for this event as well.
Scuderia Corsa team principal Giacomo Mattioli has announced that two-time Rolex GT champion Leh Keen will join Alessandro Balzan behind the wheel of the #63 Ferrari 458 Italia for the remainder of the 2013 Grand-AM Rolex schedule, starting with Indy on July 26th. The addition of Keen comes as Scuderia Corsa looks to regain the team and driver points lead it held for much of the first half of the season.
“I think adding Leh to our driver lineup is the perfect match at the perfect time, with him we are gaining championship experience. The battle for the GT class is growing in intensity and his closing skills will be very valuable,” said Mattioli of his new driver.
Keen, a soft-spoken, 29 year-old native of Dublin, Georgia has shown that behind his calm demeanor lies a fierce competitor whose long list of accomplishments include the 2009 and 2011 Grand-AM Rolex GT Championships; 2012 ALMS GTC Championship; 2nd in class at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans and 1st in class (2nd overall) at the 2010 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
When asked about joining Scuderia Corsa, Keen is quick to point out, “for any driver having the chance to join a Ferrari team is a dream come true. Many of the victories in my career have come behind the wheel of a Ferrari.”
Of the #63 458 Italia he will be co-driving with Alessandro Balzan at Indy where he placed third last year, “the 458 is the best platform in GT right now; it has unique stability and the best handling. Racing at Indy is like Daytona in that it’s a huge, historic facility and to be on the podium, where so many legends have stood before me, is a lifetime achievement.”
Alessandro Balzan, one of this year’s breakout stars in the GT class added, “there is a fantastic level of competition in the GT class right now and in order to win, we know we will have to fight even harder as a team. Having Leh with me behind the wheel of the #63 brings Scuderia Corsa the experience of a proven champion who knows these circuits well. I can’t wait for Indy to show that we are serious about taking home the championship.”
Of course, when most race fans think about the Brickyard 400 weekend, they are thinking NASCAR. The NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) returns to the historic track this weekend for just the second time. Crew Chief Philippe Lopez of Richard Petty’s Nationwide Series team led the team to last year’s top-10 finish with little knowledge on how the Nationwide cars would perform at Indy. This year, his notebook is a little bit more extensive and will give driver Michael Annett the ability to compete for the win in Saturday’s event.
“We’ll use everything from last year’s sixth-place finish and take it into consideration for this year,” added Crew Chief Philippe Lopez. “We were happy to finish sixth in the inaugural race but always looking to be a little better. The way the restart happened at the end of the race it could’ve been anyone’s game but we knew where we were weak at and that’s definitely what we’re going to work on in practice. We’ve got a much better notebook now on where we need to be in practice and where we need to be during the race. We didn’t have that last year, it was all guess work. We did a good job last year but looking to get a much better result this year. Nationwide cars are their own beast and its one of the frustrating things that we really can’t do what the Cup cars are doing and the Cup cars can’t do what we’re doing, just because we have two different sets of rules on the front packages.”
Old Wisconsin, will return to the No. 43 Ford for the second year in a row. The popular snack brand was featured on Annett’s car during last year’s race in Atlanta and will feature its Snack Sticks on the quarter panel of the No. 43 this weekend at Indy. Pilot Flying J currently carries a variety of the family-owned Old Wisconsin products in its 600 retail locations across North America. In conjunction with the partnership, Old Wisconsin Snack Sticks are two for $3.00 at any Pilot or Flying J location for the month of July.
“I’m looking forward to going to Indy; it’s such a historic track with so much prestige,” commented No. 43 Pilot Travel Centers Old Wisconsin Ford Mustang driver Michael Annett. “We finished sixth there last year and picked up the Dash 4 Cash bonus. We now have some notes to work from and we should be able to compete in the top-five and hopefully for the win on Saturday. It will only be the second time the Nationwide Series is racing here and it’s nice that we have a strong footing already.”
Be sure to watch the Indiana 250 from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 27th at 4:30 p.m. ET. The race will b broadcast on ESPN, and can also be heard on IMS and SIRIUSXM 90.
If there is one driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series who can speak about the tradition and history of race circuits across the world, it’s Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose.
“I am blessed to have had the opportunity to race around the world. I have raced on tracks throughout Europe, back home in Australia and now here in the United States. I can tell you, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has an unmatched history of any track. It has its own place in motorsports history and that’s what makes it so special. Any driver wants to win a race at Indianapolis,” stated DEWALT Ford Fusion Driver Marcos Ambrose.
It’s difficult to count the various circuits that Ambrose has competed on. However, it’s easy to point to the track that Ambrose feels is steeped in the most tradition. It’s where Ambrose will take his No. 9 DEWALT Ford this weekend, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I enjoy watching as much as the Indianapolis 500 each May as possible. I know some of the guys and it’s always a great race to watch. I think they watch us too when we race here in July. They respect that we can race these heavier stock cars around the track. It gives us and the open wheel guys some common ground. And, just as it is prestigious for them to win at Indianapolis, it’s the same for us as well,” Ambrose concluded.
A tradition started by No. 43 Eckrich Ford crew chief Todd Parrott, Marcos Ambrose’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola looks to kiss the bricks in his second Brickyard 400 this weekend. In the fourth race where the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford will carry the Eckrich logo, the team looks to capture their fifth top-10 finish of the 2013 season while working their way back into the coveted 10th spot in the championship point standings.
“Indy is awesome. It is unreal to drive down that front straightaway with grandstands on both sides and really narrow front straightaway – it’s like you are driving through a tunnel at 200 mph. It’s an amazing feeling. I remember as a kid watching the Indianapolis 500. I then remember when they started racing the Brickyard 400, watching it, and thinking what it would be like to race at that track with all the history and nostalgia. Now, to have that opportunity, is really special. It’s made even better behind the wheel of the No. 43 Eckrich Ford,” stated Eckrich Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola.
Almirola has just one start at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started fourth in his first Brickyard 400 but battled an ill-handling car to finish 19th. Veteran Crew Chief Todd Parrott started the NASCAR tradition of kissing the bricks following his first win at the iconic speedway in 1996 with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel. Jarrett earned a second win for Parrott in 1999. In his 15 starts as a crew chief, Parrott has tallied four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole (2005), showing he knows how to get around the 2.5-mile track.
In conjunction with the race, Eckrich will be airing its new “Bring the Smoke” commercial featuring Almirola and ‘The King’ Richard Petty in advance of the Brickyard 400 broadcast on ESPN.
“I’m really excited that the Eckrich ‘Bring the Smoke’ commercial is airing on ESPN before the race this Sunday,” Almirola continued. “I had a blast making it and can’t wait to hear what the fans think of it. I always look forward to having Eckrich on the car with all that they do to give back to our military families during race weekends. This weekend, we have a really fun event planned for families from the Indy area, which will be pretty cool. You’ll have to wait and see what we’re doing, but I’m pretty excited about it.”
In line with the new spot, Eckrich and Operation Homefront once again have unique plans for local military families in the Indianapolis community during the race weekend.
Even though the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis (Ind.) Motor Speedway isn’t until this weekend, David Gilliland has already been to the famed Brickyard this month for some serious racing. The driver of the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford visited the track several weeks ago to watch his 13-year-old son, Todd, compete in the USAC “Battle at the Brickyard” in quarter midget competition.
“Indy’s an important race, it’s a big deal,” Gilliland stated. “I was just there, actually. My son had a big quarter midget race there. So he’s learning the importance and the history of the Brickyard, too. Just being there and seeing how it excited all those kids and knowing how much that particular racetrack means to motorsports, it’s just special.”
The teenage Gilliland is third in a line of racing Gillilands, following his father and his grandfather, Butch. David Gilliland enjoyed seeing his son race in the historic venue and looks forward to returning to the site for this weekend’s Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard. He has five starts at the 2.5-mile oval and two top-20 finishes.
“It’s very difficult getting around there,” Gilliland continued. “It wasn’t built for a stock car. That’s the interesting part about going there. It’s kind of narrow and pretty flat and just unique. It’s fun going there but it always presents its own challenges. But we’ve made some really big strides in our program this year with Frank Kerr, my crew chief. Tracks that, in the past, have been challenging for us, we’re making gains on and getting better finishes. So, I’m eager to get to Indy and see what we can do.”
Fans can catch the Brickyard 400 from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday July 28, 1:00 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast on ESPN, and can also be heard on SiriusXM 90.
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