Combine the five new manufacturers now competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the inherent star-studded lineup for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The result is one of the most anticipated battles in the 55-year history of North America’s greatest sports race at Daytona International Speedway.
Green flag is set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (ET) with 55 cars total and two new cars from Action Express Racing – exotic Cadillac Daytona Prototype international (DPi) entries – on the front row. Joao Barbosa, a resident of nearby Ormond Beach, Florida, put the No. 5 Cadillac on the pole Thursday with a lap of 1 minute, 36.903 seconds (132.2 mph) on the 3.56-mile DIS road course to lead both overall and Prototype class qualifying. Next to Barbosa will be the No. 31 Cadillac that Dane Cameron qualified second-best.
Jeff Gordon, the retired NASCAR great who won three DAYTONA 500s and four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships during his remarkable stock car career, is entered in the Rolex 24 for the second time. He’s co-driving Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac DPi. One of those co-drivers, Ricky Taylor, qualified the car fourth on Thursday.
The Cadillacs are among the new DPi cars that are debuting this season in IMSA. DPi entries and new LM P2 cars have created a revamped – and rejuvenated – Prototype class.
“After Wayne Taylor called me and talk to me about the Cadillac program and these new DPi cars I was really excited to get a chance to a drive a car like this,” Gordon said Friday. “I’m always learning something, every time I get in the car. I can be learning something I’m doing wrong or learning something I’m doing right.
“It’s all the things that are completely different from driving opposite to a stock car – how long it takes for heat to get to the tires, how you get into the brakes, how much load the car has in the center of the corner … it’s all different. I’m having a blast and I like taking on the challenge, but it’s a steep learning curve in a short amount of time.”
In addition to the Prototype class, three other classes will compete in the Rolex 24: GT Le Mans (GTLM), GT Daytona (GTD) and Prototype Challenge (PC). Former Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are in GTLM, Ryan Hunter-Reay is in GTD while another Indy titlist, Buddy Rice, is co-driving in PC.
On Friday, the season-opening event for the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge was held – the BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour event for production-based sports cars. Both the Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) classes had especially close finishes. In GS, Trent Hindman beat Mark Miller by 0.577 seconds; both drivers were in Porsche Caymans. In ST, Mat Pombo, driving a Mini JCW, beat Eric Foss’ Cayman by 1.568 seconds.
Tickets and camping packages for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are on sale by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest speedway news throughout the season.