Posted January 9, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Murto: Rolex 24 should be one to remember

Racing season never ends, but in the minds of a lot of people the Rolex 24 at Daytona represents the start of a new year.

The 24-hour endurance sports car event is set to get the green flag on Jan. 26. Guest drivers include stars from a variety of racing disciplines, such as A.J. Allmendinger, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rubens Barichello, Tony Kanaan, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastian Bourdais, Jamie McMurray, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Dario Franchitti and Nelson Piquet Jr.

The 2013 running will be the last under current Grand Am rules. Grand Am purchased the American LeMans Series (ALMS), and on Friday announced the rules that will govern the combined series in 2014 and beyond.

Grand Am's Daytona Prototype cars will still be the top class. But they will be joined by the ALMS P2 class, as well as the experimental Delta Wing. The ALMS spec prototype class -- PC -- will run as separate class.

Due to the rules being so far apart, the Grand Am GT cars and the ALMS GT cars will each run as a separate class. The current ALMS GTC cars will join the Grand Am GT class.

This makes four solid divisions: The combined headlining prototype cars, the spec prototype cars, and two GT classes. The only thing that disappears is the ALMS P1 prototype class, but the few cars that currently run that division can modify their cars to run in the combined DP/P2 class.

Confusing? Maybe. The short of it is that few people will have to change the cars they already compete with in order to conform to the new rules, and there will be more cars on the starting grid at major sports car events in North America in 2014. Expect 80 cars or more to be entered in the 2014 running of the Rolex 24.

The benefits to Grand Am's purchase of ALMS are obvious. No longer will there be competing sports car series at the top level of North American motorsports. And there will be less confusion for fans, as the same cars that run in the Rolex 24 will be able to race at the 12 Hours of Sebring, currently an ALMS race. As part of the purchase, Grand Am got the rights to the lease at Sebring and bought Road Atlanta.

The only downside is that there will be fewer races for fans to attend. Expect many tracks -- mostly those dealing with ALMS -- to lose their race date. Virginia International Raceway may be among them, though there hasn't been any confirmation. It may be a good idea to attend this year's ALMS race at VIR, as it might be your last chance to see prototype sports cars compete in the region for quite some time.

The Rolex 24 may mark the start of racing season for some, but for fans of motocross racing Saturday night's AMA Supercross in Anaheim, Calif., was the first race of the year, and it was full of surprises.

First, James Stewart crashed in practice and injured his knee. Then, during the race, defending champion Ryan Villopoto crashed. In the end, Davi Milsaps pulled the upset victory on his Suzuki, grabbing his fourth Supercross win after a great battle with Trey Canard on a Honda. The KTM of Ryan Dungey finished third.

Local motocross racing begins March 2 at Shenandoah Speedway, with a full day of practice slated for March 1. The oval opens on April 13, featuring Late Models and the IMCA Virginia Sprint Series, which should set a new track record. The Sprint Cars will compete at Shenandoah a number of times in 2013, visit www.shenandoah-speedway.com for more information.

With the closing of Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Shenandoah stands a good chance of picking up a few more cars.

There are plenty of cars in Tulsa, Okla., right now competing in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl indoor Midget race, an event that should be on every race fan's bucket list. It'll be interesting to see if Ted Christopher is one of the nearly 300 entries. Christopher -- a legend in New England -- recently won the indoor TQ Midget race in Providence, R.I., and has proven that he can race just about anything. A former NASCAR Modified Tour and Weekly Racing Series champion, he's won in nearly everything he's driven, including Late Models and Supermodifieds, and has more wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway than any other driver.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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