It’s not a new trend but it’s always a welcomed one. We’re talking about the inherent all-star atmosphere that envelops Daytona International Speedway during North America’s greatest sports car race – the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
That atmosphere was already evident this week, during a two-day test for the 55th Rolex 24, set for Jan. 28-29 on the 3.56-mile DIS road course. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a number of cars were being driven by stars who have made their names mainly in racing disciplines other than sports cars.
Start with Jeff Gordon, the three-time DAYTONA 500 champion and four-time champion of NASCAR’s premier series, in one of the new Cadillac DPi entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Prototype class. Continue with Ford GT co-driver Scott Dixon, former Indianapolis 500 champion and four-time champion of the IndyCar Series – and also a two-time Rolex 24 champion. Joining Dixon in the No. 67 Ford is Ryan Briscoe, an eight-time IndyCar winner who co-drove to a GT Le Mans class victory last year in the Rolex 24. Factor in former Indy Lights titlist Sage Karam, now co-driving a new Lexus entry in the GT Daytona class throughout the WeatherTech Championship season with five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett.
Also lined up for the Rolex 24 are Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal from IndyCar, co-driving an Acura NSX GT3 in the GT Daytona class. Hunter-Reay won the IndyCar title in 2012 and the Indy 500 in ’14. Rahal will make his eighth Rolex 24 start; he co-drove to the win in 2011. Rahal participated in this week’s test with his Michael Shank Racing teammates.
And, there always could be a few other “one-off” appearances for the race itself, perhaps by NASCAR veterans. In recent years, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson all have been in the Rolex 24. In 2015, McMurray and Larson co-drove to victory with Dixon and Tony Kanaan. In the process, McMurray joined Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win both the Rolex 24 and the DAYTONA 500.
“There’s no other race like this,” said Wayne Taylor, team owner at Wayne Taylor Racing, which will field the No. 10 Cadillac DPi that Gordon will co-drive in the Rolex 24. Taylor was a Rolex 24 champion driver in 1996 and 2005 and he co-drove with Gordon in 2007, finishing third.
“There’s so much history in this event and from all over the world you get drivers from every walk of [racing] life. Everyone wants to be at Daytona. It’s the best place to kick off a new season.”
Eric Curran posted the fastest lap on Wednesday – and the fastest of the two-day test – in the No. 31 Cadillac DPi from Action Express Racing, at 1 minute, 37.797 seconds (131 mph).
This week’s test was the second of three preseason sessions for the Rolex 24, IMSA’s season-opening event. The first test was Nov. 15-16. The final test will be the annual “Roar Before the Rolex 24” on Jan. 6-8.
Tickets for DIS events are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat (username: DISupdates), and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.