Once again, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization is among the favorites to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, with a high-profile two-car team featuring stars from IMSA, IndyCar and NASCAR.
Intimidating on paper, the lineup was even more so on Friday, the first day of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test sessions. Ganassi cars led both practices on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course, in preparation for the Jan. 24-25 season-opening event of the IMSA-sanctioned TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
That lineup includes former DAYTONA 500 champion Jamie McMurray, who will co-drive the No. 02 Ford EcoBoost/Riley DP with former Indianapolis 500 champions Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan plus 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson.
McMurray covets a Rolex 24 win – and the championship Rolex watch awarded to winners – which should surprise no one. He’s the consummate big-stage performer. In addition to his DAYTONA 500 triumph he also has a Brickyard 400 victory and a win in Daytona’s summer event, the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola. His other NASCAR wins have come at Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The Rolex 24 is definitely on my bucket list,” McMurray said. “The watch – to me, that’s the trophy. I don’t even know if I’d wear it, if got one. I think I’d just look at it.”
McMurray’s teammate Scott Pruett has five Rolexes to peruse. The co-driver of the No. 01 Ford/Riley – teamed with Joey Hand, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam – is trying to become the only driver to win the Rolex 24 overall title six times. Pruett and Hurley Haywood share the all-time record of five overall victories. Four of Pruett’s wins have come as a lead driver for Ganassi Racing.
“The record is always a big deal but I never think about it,” Pruett said. “My focus is on the here and now.
“But every year, there’s just something magical about coming to Daytona. I raced here for the first time [in 1985] and it’s still just as exciting for me now as it was then.”
The first practice session was topped by the No. 02 with a fast lap of 128.926 mph (1 minute, 39.406 seconds), with Dixon at the wheel. The No. 01 logged second-fastest at 128.798 (1:39.505) with Hand driving. In the afternoon, Hand had the best lap of the second session and the day overall – 128.937 (1:39.397). Ozz Negri was second-fastest in the No. 60 Honda/Ligier JS P2, at 128.782 (1:39.517).
“It’s great … to jump in the car and have a good feel for the car and be able to go quick right away,” Hand said. “It’s a great feeling for sure. I just hope it stays that way all the way through the end of this race. “
Tickets for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Roar Before the Rolex 24, which continues Saturday and Sunday, can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
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