Laguna’s 50th nears

The highly competitive Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series with its featured Daytona Prototypes will launch Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s 50th anniversary celebration May 18-20 with the U.S. Sports Car Invitational on the world-renowned 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course.

Since their introduction in 2003, the Daytona Prototypes have experienced phenomenal growth. That first year for the Prototypes, only a handful could be found in races; the field now hovers around 25 to 30 cars. Different engine and chassis combinations that meet written guidelines compete in the series.

Through the first four events of the season, Pontiac has been the leading engine manufacturer, followed by Lexus, Porsche, Ford and BMW. Riley chassis have won all four races to date.

Max “The Axe” Angelelli, the 2005 driver co-champion with Wayne Taylor, and partner Jan Magnussen hold an 11-point lead over 2004 co-champ and Northern California native Scott Pruett heading into Laguna Seca. Pruett is trailed by only nine points by 18-year-old sensation Colin Braun and “Mad” Max Papis, with whom Pruett shared the ’04 driver title.

Legends of Laguna: On opening weekend, Laguna Seca will launch its new Legends of Laguna Seca program, honoring Dan Gurney, who had success at the track as a driver, team owner and manufacturer.

At subsequent events during Laguna’s 50th anniversary season, Monterey resident Wayne Rainey, arguably the best all time on two wheels, will be honored at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix MotoGP race; longtime racer Pete Lovely, who won the inaugural race at Laguna in 1957, will be featured at the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races; Eddie Lawson, a former four-time world champion, will be honored at the AMA Superbike races, and Bobby Rahal, who won a number of races at the dry lake as a driver and team owner, will be inducted at the Monterey Sports Car Championships.

Pair of seconds for Merrill: Rookie Thomas Merrill of Salinas finished second behind PR1 Motorsports teammate Patrick Barrett in both Pacific F2000 Championship races last weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park near Bakersfield to move into fourth place in the standings half way through the 12-race, six event schedule.

PATRICK FEELING THE PRESURE

Danica Patrick knows she must start winning races. “I guess I do feel more pressure this year,” Patrick said. Danica-mania hit the Indianapolis 500 two years ago,when she was the first woman to lead the race and finished fourth. Through the first four races this season, Patrick is eighth in IRL points and is coming off her best finish of seventh at Kansas Speedway.

THIS WEEK’S PIT STOPS

NEXTEL CUP

WHAT: Dodge Avenger 500

WHERE: Darlington, S.C.

WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m.

BUSCH

WHAT: Diamond Hill Plywood 200

WHERE: Darlington, S.C.

WHEN: Friday, 5 p.m.

NHRA

WHAT: Thunder Valley Nationals

WHERE: Bristol, Tenn.

WHEN: May 20

IRL

WHAT: Indianapolis 500

WHERE: Indianapolis

WHEN: May 27

CHAMP CAR

WHAT: G.I. Joe’s Grand Prix

WHERE: Portland, Ore.

WHEN: June 10

FORMULA ONE

WHAT: Spanish GP

WHERE: Barcelona

WHEN: Sunday, 4:30 a.m.

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