Grand Am series suits Pruett well

Sacramento native Scott Pruett returns to Northern California and one of his favorite racetracks next week when he defends his Rolex Series championship in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas.

The three-day event begins with qualifying and practice May 4 and May 5 and races the next two days.

Pruett, 46, has been racing cars since he was 8 years old and has driven just about every type of racing car in what he calls a career that “has come full circle.” But he has a particular fondness for his current gig — racing Daytona prototypes as part of the Grand American Road Racing Association’s Rolex Sports Car Series.

“What I like about this racing is that drivers have to drive the car,” Pruett said. “And what I mean by that is that I’ve driven cars over the years with so much down force and so much horsepower. All you have to do is get in, put your foot down and be brave. … This is a great balance.”

Grand American was established in 1999 by the France family, who run NASCAR. The Rolex Sports Car Series is its marquee event, featuring a combination of technologically advanced cars that travel upwards of 190 mph and a unique team of two drivers who switch off driving during the 2-hours, 45-minute race.

And while the cars are not as advanced as those on the Formula One circuit, Grand American created rules and restrictions that make competition more about skill than the money behind the car.

There is also the nod to racing tradition and the old 24-hour races. Pruett has teamed up to win two races this season (Long Beach and Mexico) with co-driver Luis Diaz.

When Pruett’s Lexus lines up next weekend in the finals, it will be alongside approximately 30 other prototypes and 30 to 40 GT cars. The number of cars and the different speeds that the GT and prototypes go make for a considerable amount of passing. So while car junkies might prefer the world of IRL and Formula One, Grand Am might just be a little more accessible.

“People want to be entertained. From my point of view, it’s awesome driving them,” Pruett said. “But from the fan’s point of view, they know they’re going to see action. They know they’re not going to the race just to see cars go around a racetrack and where they stretch it out and it’s going to be boring. They’re going to see hardcore racing from start to finish.”

Pruett has seen the NASCAR philosophy translate to the Grand Am circuit, where he says, spinning a baseball metaphor, races comes down to the final pitch.

“That’s what made NASCAR as strong as it is. You see people fighting it out all race long,” he said.

Laguna Seca is a home track of sorts for the Northern California native after countless races there throughout his career.

“It’s very challenging. It’s technical … there’s no real straightaway,” Pruett said of the legendary course.

He’squick to point out how fan-friendly the venue is.

“From a fan’s point of view it’s a very cool race track because you can get up on the hillside and see a lot of racing from one vantage point — different than when they race in downtown San Jose and downtown Long Beach, where you see a very small section of the racetrack.”

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