Mid-Ohio \’confident\’ of landing sports car race in \’14

As the name suggests, sports car racing has long been associated with Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The hope is it will continue to host the best of major league sports car racing in the future.

Wednesday’s announcement that the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series will merge in 2014 was welcome news for track president Craig Rust.

“I think it’s extremely positive news for Mid-Ohio, as well as the fans of sports car racing in North America and the racing partners,” he said.

Mid-Ohio has hosted both series nearly from their inception at the turn of the century, and it is one of the few venues that can boast that.

“Both are familiar with us. We have a long history and tradition with sports car racing. We’re one of America’s classic road racing courses,” Rust said.

Both will be on the schedule for 2013, but the expected 2014 12-race schedule remains to be seen.

“Without having any conversation with leadership after the announcement, I’m confident we’ll work with them and get a spot on the schedule,” Rust said. “We’ve worked with both series and both have expressed interest in returning to Mid-Ohio, and we feed a great Midwestern market between Columbus and Cleveland.”

The 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans from ALMS are locks, as are the Rolex 24 at Daytona and a race at Watkins Glen from Grand-Am. Long Beach for ALMS and Indianapolis for Grand-Am are potential holdovers as well. That leaves only about six spots on the schedule.

Among those vying for places on the docket will be Laguna Seca, Lime Rock and Road America, three tracks that host both, like Mid-Ohio. ALMS also competes at Mosport, Virginia International and in a street race in Baltimore. Grand-Am holds a street race in Detroit as well as races at Barber, Homestead, New Jersey and Montreal.

Mid-Ohio has traditionally hosted Grand-Am in June, although last year saw it hold the series season finale. Since 2007, ALMS has shared the weekend with IndyCar.

“I think this new series is going to bring a lot with it. I don’t think we can plop it on the IndyCar weekend as it is now. I would say it deserves its own unique place on the schedule,” Rust said.

» TOP SECRET: Rust knows all the movers and shakers that made the deal happen. He’s worked with and/or for principals on each side, but he didn’t know a thing about the merger until it started to leak on Twitter over the weekend.

“I was tipped off via a text message on Saturday,” he said. “Once it broke in the paddock area in Baltimore, I think that got the texts flying.”

Because it was handled solely by owners Jim France and Don Panoz and their top lieutenants Ed Bennett and Scott Atherton, the conversations could be controlled and kept secret for more than six months.

“You didn’t have a team owner and a sponsor brought into the loop,” Rust said of how the secret was kept. “You’ve got people on both sides who want to see it succeed in positive ways.”

» NASA CHAMPIONSHIPS: Mid-Ohio’s spectator season isn’t over. This weekend it hosts some of the country’s top amateur sports car racers for the National Auto Sports Association Championships.

More than 40 drivers will be crowned Saturday and Sunday in races within races as well as time trials. Qualifying races will be held Friday.

There are about 350 entrants in a variety of classes this weekend with 68 coming from Ohio.

Tickets are $15 each day or $35 for a three-day pass. Spectators should enter through Gate 3.

Read more about the NASA Championships in Friday’s News Journal and MansfieldNews Journal.com.

» LARIBEE WINS: Crestline’s Mike Laribee took the semi truck class points lead in the Pro Pullers League after winning the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza in Terre Haute, Ind., by 20 feet.

“I think we found some more horsepower and I hope we can carry it for the rest of the season,” Laribee said in a statement.

Shelby’s Joe Metzger was third at the pull. Laribee also won an Ohio State Tractor Pullers Association stop at Fremont, while Shelby’s Matthew Metzger was third.

» ALL-STARS IN ORRVILLE: The All Star Circuit of Champions held a race at Napa Auto Parts Wayne County Speedway over the weekend and Danny Holtgraver came from 16th on the grid to win the sprint car race.

Other winners on the card were Perrysville’s George Lee in super late models and Paul Holmes in pure stocks.

» ZANARDI TAKES GOLD: Former Mid-Ohio winner and CART champion Alex Zanardi won a gold medal at London’s 2012 Paralympics in the hand bike division.

Zanardi achieved his greatest racing success with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, before moving on to Formula One. He lost his legs a decade ago in a race accident in Germany when he returned to CART with a different team.

“Nothing Alex does surprises me anymore,” Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He is a tremendous person and true ‘racer’ at heart. Whether it’s IndyCars or hand bikes, Alex has always been a terrific competitor. We all know he showed that talent when he was part of Team Target here in America, but today he showed the rest of the world his truly invincible spirit. I have had the good fortune to share many victories with Alex over the years, but I don’t know that I have ever been so proud of him.”

Rob McCurdy covers motor sports for the News Journal and can be reached at rmccurdy@gannett.com or
419-521-7241. On Twitter follow him @McMotorsport.