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Road racing set for debut this weekend at Kansas Speedway

Updated: 2013-08-15T05:35:46Z

By RANDY COVITZ

The Kansas City Star

Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor’s racing fortunes are tied together.

Angelelli, 46, and a native of Bologna, Italy, is a hardened veteran of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, owning 23 career Daytona Prototype wins, third all-time.

Taylor, 22, of Orlando, Fla., is a rookie in the Daytona Prototype class, and has been part of two of those wins this season.

One can’t win a road race without the other.

That’s one of the unique facets of this weekend’s inaugural SFP Grand-Am Road Racing at Kansas Speedway’s new road course.

The top-tier Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and second-tier Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge are tag-team efforts. One driver qualifies the car and begins the race, which is measured not by laps, but by time — 2 hours, 45 minutes for the top-tier Rolex series and 2:30 for the Continental series.

Practice and qualifying for the two races will be Friday. The Continental racing event starts at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by the Rolex race at 7.

A crowd of about 15,000 is expected, and it will be an educational process for Midwest racing fans accustomed to watching NASCAR Sprint Cup races on the Kansas Speedway trioval.

But Angelelli, who drives a Corvette, thinks the fans will like watching the $450,000 Fords, Chevys, BMWs and Porsches — called Daytona Prototypes — zipping up to 195 mph around the 2.37-mile, Kansas Speedway road course.

“It’s very hard racing, very close racing … bumping, and we’re going to fight until the last corner of the last lap,” Angelelli said.

There’s plenty of strategy, too, as teams have to figure out when to pit and when to change drivers. The driver who starts has to qualify the car.

“Everything has to go right for you to get a win in these races,” Taylor said. “Everything from the speed of the car, the speed of the driver (changes), the pit-stop speed, strategy of fueling and tires. … There’s a lot that goes into it.”

Generally, there are at least three pit stops in a race.

Angelelli formerly teamed with Taylor’s father, Wayne, in winning the 2005 Daytona Prototype championship. He then raced with older brother Ricky for five years before partnering with Jordan at Wayne Taylor Racing.

Angelelli and Ricky Taylor alternated starting and finishing races, but because Jordan is new to the series, he’s been starting with the veteran finishing. So far the strategy has been working. They’ve won two races —at Road Atlanta and Barber Motorsports in Alabama —and enter this weekend fifth in the standings, just 12 points out of first with three events remaining.

“Max is a very experienced driver, has been in sports cars for 20 years. … He knows what he needs to do to make the car go fast and win races,” Jordan Taylor said.

While waiting for his turn, Angelelli stays busy.

“I’m checking on what he does, watch the best line to take in traffic, listen to the radio conversation. … There is a lot to do. I’m not bored, definitely. “Finishing is fun, but it’s very tough.”

The drivers have to contend with cars from other series that are on the track at the same time.

During the Rolex race, the Daytona Prototypes are joined on the track by the Grand Touring Class, which consists of $300,000 American muscle cars, such as Camaros, and imports such as BMWs, Porsches, Ferraris and Audis. Also, there’s a third class, GX, a slower Mazda6 and Porsche Cayman, putting as many as 30 cars from three series on the track simultaneously.

It’s the equivalent of having Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks series racers on the track all at the same time.

It’s the same in the Continental Tire Challenge, which fields sports cars straight from the showroom floor in its two classes, the Grand Sport Class and Street Tuner that can include as many as 60 to 70 cars on the course.

“With three classes in one race … you’ll see a race inside a race,” Taylor said. “DP cars will be lapping GT cars … the traffic of a GT car is what makes a lot of racing and a lot of creativity and optimistic moves by a Daytona Prototype, and that’s what creates some excitement and good racing.”

Because of the expense of these cars, the Grand-Am Rolex and Continental Sports Car Challenge run 12-race seasons, starting with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January for the Rolex series. Drivers like Angelelli and Taylor aren’t household names and don’t earn paychecks comparable to Sprint Cup or IndyCar drivers, but they don’t seem to mind.

“Grand-Am is owned by NASCAR,” Angelelli said, “and when we win … the biggest race in the series, we make less money than the last driver in NASCAR in the smallest race. But I feel this is the place where I belong. There are many good drivers; it’s good to beat them.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/randycovitz.

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