The Roar Before The Rolex 24 was in full song Friday at Daytona International Speedway, with 55 sports cars beginning three days of shakedowns for the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29.
There were two practice sessions Friday on the 3.56-mile road course. Swiss driver Neel Jani, in the No. 13 ORECA LM P2 Prototype for Rebellion Racing, had the fastest lap in each of the sessions – 1 minute, 39.164 seconds (129.2 mph) in the morning and a nearly identical 1:39.160 (129.2) in the afternoon. New LM P2s and new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars debuting this year have revitalized the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s headlining Prototype class.
“This is my first time at Daytona ever,” Jani said. “I saw the track today, the banking and how steep it is. You wonder … how can you drive on that? But, you get used to it quite quickly.”
The Rolex 24, the season-opening race in the WeatherTech Championship, is attracting its usual all-star lineup of drivers. Three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon, five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon – who also has co-driven to two Rolex 24 victories – all turned laps Friday on the 3.56-mile DIS road course.
Gordon, also a four-time champion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – he retired after the 2015 season – is racing in the Rolex 24 for only the second time; in 2007 he co-drove to a third-place finish. Once again he’s part of the Wayne Taylor Racing lineup, in a new No.10 Cadillac-powered DPi machine in the headlining Prototype class. Gordon’s co-drivers: Wayne Taylor’s sons Ricky and Jordan and Max Angelelli.
“It’s been a dream of mine not just to drive a car like this, but to be able to compete out on the track as part of a team in a car like this,” Gordon told a packed media center Friday during IMSA’s “Legends at Lunchtime” interview sessions.
“This is a lot of fun for me and I treat this like I’m a rookie, having done this race just one other time. I just try to tap into this team and my teammates – and nothing would make me more proud than to be part of an effort that would give Wayne the win as a team owner.”
Pruett and Dixon are driving production-based cars this year. Pruett is in the new No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 of the 3GT Racing team, entered in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. Dixon is part of a three-car Ford Chip Ganassi assault in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, co-driving the No. 67 Ford GT.
Pruett shares the record for Rolex 24 victories with Hurley Haywood. And although he has no realistic hopes of winning a sixth overall title this year – the GTD class is the slowest of the WeatherTech Championship’s four classes – that hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm of being the lead driver for a new, heralded factory-backed Lexus effort.
“It’s exciting being here on the ground level [of our team development],” Pruett said. “I love coming here, coming back with a great program. We have a lot to learn and we’re working hard.”
Dixon is also a four-time IndyCar Series titlist who, like Pruett, finds himself in a class other than Prototype. He looks forward, though, to an impending GTLM shootout with BMWs, Corvettes and Porsche.
“This is such a tough race to get everything right,” Dixon said. “There are definitely landmark races you want to win throughout your career and the Rolex 24 is definitely on that list.”
Testing continues Saturday from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m. The Roar also is open to teams in the production-based IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, which will open its season on Jan. 27 at DIS with the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge.
Infield-only tickets for the Roar Before The Rolex 24 are $15 (garage access included), with children ages 12 and under admitted free. Tickets can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or at the gate.
Tickets, camping packages and hospitality packages for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are on sale by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
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