KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The new road course at Kansas Speedway finally got its test drive.
Sports cars turned laps on the 2.36-mile course Wednesday morning. The layout meandering through the infield was built during a $20 million project this summer that also resurfaced the main tri-oval in time for NASCAR's next Sprint Cup race, scheduled for Oct. 21.
There is no date yet for the first sports car race at Kansas Speedway, but track President Pat Warren expects the race to be run under the lights next summer.
"We couldn't be more excited about having a road course and having a Grand-Am race here next year to add to our NASCAR events," Warren said. "It's a whole new place for racing in Kansas City and the only place in the Midwest you can get it. It will be fantastic."
Drivers from the Rolex and Continental Tires series took part in testing the six-turn design, which takes cars down the front straight before a hard left into the infield.
They twist and turn their way down the back side before a hairpin turn brings them back to Turn 2, where they merge back on the main track and head down the backstretch toward Turns 3 and 4.
The testing was done one week after Grand-Am and American Le Mans announced a merger that will join them as one series beginning with the 2014 season. The new series will start with that year's edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and likely include 12 races.
Many details are still being worked out, including a series name and technical regulations, but the merger involves a total of eight North American sports car series.
Grand-Am sanctions and operates the Rolex Sports Car Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the TOTAL Performance Showcase, and sanctions the Ferrari Challenge. IMSA sanctions the ALMS, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
It's unclear how the merger will affect Kansas Speedway after next year, but it was evident from drivers taking part in testing that they welcome a new venue for their series.
"The appeal of road racing is that is more of what you're used to seeing on the road," said Ryan Ellis, who drives in the Continental Tire series.
"Normally in NASCAR, you see cars that aren't exactly what you see on the streets," said the 22-year-old Ellis. "You turn left and right, which is a little more natural. It's a different audience, for sure. It's something that excites my demographic, a little bit younger."
The Rolex series is the upper echelon of sports car racing, with classes for Grand Touring-style cars and the sleek, fast prototypes that are most closely associated with the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"We should go really fast around here from what I can see," Rolex driver Joao Barbosa said after turning laps over the road course at Kansas Speedway on Wednesday.
"I'm looking forward to the new course and the possibilities from the laps I've done," Barbosa said, "and I'm looking forward to helping the series and helping the track if we need to do anything to make it better."