The 58th running of the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA sports car endurance classic is five days away. The rhetorical clock is ticking, leading up to Saturday afternoon when the real clock comes into play.
The Rolex 24, the season-opening race for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, starts at 1:40 p.m. Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. Competitors will then face one of motorsports’ most challenging events, a twice-around-the-clock excursion on the 3.56-mile DIS road course. Four WeatherTech Championship classes – Daytona Prototype international (DPi), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will vie simultaneously for the overall and the separate class titles.
Beneath that overview of one of motorsports premier races lies a plethora of storylines supporting the undeniable resurgence of the Rolex 24 in recent years. That resurgence has coincided with a reimagined IMSA, which has made the 2014 merger of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series a sparkling triumph, to the benefit of North American sports car racing fans.
Each season, it all starts amid the consummate backdrop: the “World Center of Racing” in the city where IMSA was founded in 1969.
Every year at the Rolex 24, the buzz inevitably begins with the entry list. This race is renowned for attracting an all-star field featuring drivers from other racing disciplines such as NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1. This year fits the mold as two-time and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch heads the must-see list, co-driving the No. 14 AIM VASSER SULLIVAN Lexus in the production-based GTD class, making his Rolex 24 debut.
Other entry-list highlights:
· Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud is entered, as are five other former Indy 500 winners – Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi. Dixon, Pagenaud, Montoya, Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais are the past IndyCar series champions entered.
· There’s more NASCAR flavor in the Grand Sport Class of the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge event on Friday – NASCAR up-and-comers Hailie Deegan, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe in the Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4s. The No. 15 will be piloted by Cindric and Seb Priaulx and the No. 22 by Briscoe and Deegan.
· Back to the Rolex 24, GEAR Racing powered by GRT Grasser is set to compete in the No. 19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with an all-female lineup of Christina Nielsen, Katherine Legge, Tati Calderon, and Rahel Frey. Nielsen and Legge have a combined 13 starts in the Rolex 24 and co-drove on the Meyer Shank Racing all-women’s team at last year’s Rolex 24.
· The defending race champion team from Wayne Taylor Racing returns with an altered lineup in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi. Taylor – also a Rolex 24 champion as a driver in his younger days – is now fielding a team without both of his accomplished sons, Jordan and Ricky Taylor. Jordan has departed Wayne Taylor Racing for the legendary GT organization Corvette Racing. His exit was prefaced last year when Ricky joined Roger Penske’s IMSA team. This year’s WTR roster consists of Dixon, former IndyCar star Ryan Briscoe plus returnees Renger van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi.
Off-track items of note start with this year’s Grand Marshal, the immensely popular – and successful – Christian Fittipaldi, who retired from competition after last year’s Rolex 24. Fittipaldi, nephew of open-wheel legend Emerson Fittipaldi, won the Rolex 24 three times in his career.
There will also be plenty of activities for fans to enjoy throughout the Rolex 24 including:
· Taste of the 24: For the 11th consecutive year, The NASCAR Foundation will host its Taste of the 24 event. Held in the Midway Suites, fans can indulge in delicious foods from Daytona-area restaurants while enjoying live entertainment; they will also be entered to win a Rolex watch.
· Heritage Exhibition: A number of historically significant race cars will be on display all weekend long inside UNOH Fanzone. Cars featured include sports cars from 1965 to 2013 that raced in the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, with a strong focus on cars from the various prototype eras. On Saturday morning, the participating cars will turn demonstration laps and a parade lap around a portion of the road course.
· Rolex 24 Boardwalk and Ferris wheel: Fans can visit the infield for a wide selection of food and carnival rides, including one of the largest Ferris wheels on the East Coast, which allows them to watch the race from 150 feet in the air.
· One of the world’s largest autograph sessions: Nowhere else in the world will fans find some of the greatest sports car drivers all signing autographs at the same time and in the same location. The UNOH Fanzone will host the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship autograph session prior to Saturday’s race. With all of the Rolex 24 drivers participating, it’s one of the largest autograph sessions in all of sports.
· IMSA Twenty-Four Premier at ONE DAYTONA: On Wednesday, January 22, before the teams take to the track, race fans can get up close to the cars and drivers during this fan-friendly event at ONE DAYTONA across the street from Daytona International Speedway. From 6-8 p.m., fans can meet some of the biggest names in the sport, watch a live pit stop demonstration and more.
· Car manufacturer and vendor displays: With the paved infield Midway jam-packed with manufacturer and vendor displays, car fanatics can find the latest information on some of their favorite race teams, straight from the makers of the machines themselves.
· Annual Celebration of Speed at ONE DAYTONA: For fans who enjoy exotic cars and want to help a good cause, at ONE DAYTONA on Friday, January 24 from 6-8 p.m., luxury vehicle owners will gather to raise money to help support The NASCAR Foundation.
Tickets for the 58th Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, the 62nd annual DAYTONA 500 on Feb. 16 and other speedway events can be purchased online at www.