By: Tanner Watkins
January 25, 2019 | 12:00 PM
Well race fans, the motorsports calendar for 2019 is firmly underway. With the Chili Bowl wrapped up (thank you David Byrd and Conor Daly for representing IndyCar) and the Rolex 24 at Daytona rolling through this weekend, that long offseason is finally starting to diminish.
As we did with the Roar Before the 24 a few weeks ago, Open-Wheels is offering a preview of the Daytona endurance race with an IndyCar slant. For open-wheel fanatics, in particular, the IndyCar ranks will be well represented during this weekend’s festivities.
Let’s break it down by division.
Beginning with the prototype division (officially named Daytona Prototype International, DPI) it is hard to miss the two standout Acura Team Penske entries.
Between Penske’s four drivers with past or present IndyCar connections – Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi – the quartet has an incredible six Indianapolis 500 victories to their names. Pagenaud is the only man without his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but his series championship triumph in 2016 is something that only Montoya can claim to have as well.
Moving down the entry list in the DPI category, one name sticks out rather quickly: Fernando Alonso Diaz, driving the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac for Wayne Taylor Racing.
While our friend Fred’s full name is hardly ever used in motorsports coverage, Alonso’s teammate line-up for this year’s Daytona 24 is easily recognizable with sports car aces Renger Van Der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Kamui Kobayashi in the fray.
The battle for Rolex 24 supremacy in the prototype division could come down to a massive head-to-head battle between Team Penske and Wayne Taylor Racing, and there will be no shortage of stars on hand for the duel.
In other interesting prototype news, fledgling IndyCar Series team Juncos Racing will be making their sports car debut at Daytona with pipeline prospects Rene Binder and Kyle Kaiser as part of their four-driver No. 50 Cadillac DPi entry.
As far as prototype drivers with IndyCar or Road to Indy experience in less recent years, Rubens Barrichello, Juan Piedrahita and Tristan Vautier will be driving Cadillacs for JDC-Miller Motorsports while Christian Fittipaldi returns with Mustang Sampling to defend their 2018 Daytona 24 crown.
Mike Conway was scheduled to run alongside Fittipaldi in that Mustang Sampling entry, but visa issues will keep him from entering the country in time to race.
Le Mans Prototype (LMP2)
In the LeMans Prototype (LMP2) category, the only tie found with IndyCar comes in the form of DragonSpeed. Our of four entries in the LMP2 class this year, DragonSpeed will have two of them with car numbers 18 and 81 carrying their colors.
Back in December, DragonSpeed turned a few heads by announcing a partial IndyCar Series schedule for the 2019 season. This includes a stop at the 103rd Indianapolis 500 as well as events such as the season-opener at St. Petersburg, a spring stop at Barber Motorsports Park, and summer races at Road America and Mid-Ohio.
With DragonSpeed confirming five drivers for the two-car team thus far, it is known that long-time endurance racing ace Ben Hanley will be in one of the cars as he kicks off a challenging year of competition.
Hanley will be the driver for DragonSpeed’s five IndyCar races in 2019, keeping busy between open-wheel racing and sports cars. Additionally, former IndyCar Series driver Sebastian Saavedra will be in the second DragonSpeed car opposite Hanley during the “24.”
In total there are only four LMP2 entries, and DragonSpeed has two of them.
GT Le Mans (GTLM)
Always a competitive division, the GT Le Mans class features nine entries for this weekend’s Daytona 24 – and some familiar names.
Bobby Rahal’s growing sports car operation will take part in the GTLM festivities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with two cars in the running. While it will be interesting to watch IndyCar rookie Colton Herta race for Team RLL in its No. 25 BMW M8 GTE, surely all eyes will be on Alex Zanardi as the Italian shakes down the No. 24 machine for practice and qualifying.
Zanardi will be driving an identical BMW M8 GTE compared to Herta’s car, though the former machine will be fitted with hand controls for braking, throttle and clutch for Zanardi to operate since the courageous open-wheel veteran has no legs.
With a great challenge ahead it would be asking a lot of Zanardi to think the team could compete for a class victory, but if we know anything about this Italian fighter, it is not to rule him out of any battle.
Sitting opposite of BMW Team RLL in the fight for IndyCar supremacy will be GTLM foe Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. Always a threat in sports car racing, Chip’s two-car team is filled with race winners.
In the No. 66 Ford GT, Sebastien Bourdais joins Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller as that trio remains intact from last year’s Daytona 24 run. The group finished runner-up in the GTLM category in 2018 to none other than their teammates in the No. 67 car – reigining IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, former IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe and experienced sports car veteran Richard Westbrook.
While Ganassi will take heat from the established two-car Corvette Racing effort as well as Porsche’s dual-entry competitors, the GTLM class victory will likely go to a Ford GT trio as long as their team avoids long-term disaster during the 24-hour race.
GT Daytona (GTD)
In the final of four categories for this year’s Rolex 24, we arrive at the GT Daytona class.
Looking at the 23-car field from an IndyCar perspective, the group is littered with drivers who hold roots in American open-wheel racing’s various levels.
Driving for the familiar names of Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, Townsend Bell, Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth will all drive Lexus machines in the GTD category with prior IndyCar or Road to Indy experience.
Bell raced in the Indianapolis 500 as recently as 2016 and will be part of NBC’s IndyCar broadcast team when it takes the full-time television reigns in 2019. Telitz spent the last two seasons driving for Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights and is actively seeking funding for an Indianapolis 500 run this year, and Hawksworth notched 49 IndyCar Series starts under his belt between 2014 and 2016.
In other GTD news, Michael Shank and his Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian outfit is fielding an all-female line-up for their No. 57 car at this weekend’s “Roar.”
Three of the women have previous experience driving in IndyCar with Katherine Legge, Ana Beatriz and Simona De Silvestro all taking turns at the wheel in Shank’s Acura NSX GT3. The Caterpillar-branded machine will be one to watch for throughout the weekend at Daytona and is certainly a fan favorite.
Rounding out our IndyCar-themed preview, Indy Lights driver and 2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni will be racing this weekend in Via Italia’s Ferrari 488 while fellow Ferrari team Scuderia Corsa will bring four drivers to the Rolex 24.
Scuderia Corsa made their IndyCar debut as a joint partner with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and will be back at IMS next May with Ed Jones and Ed Carpenter Racing.
The 57th Rolex 24 at Daytona will go green on Saturday, January 26 on NBCSN. The race goes green at 2:00 PM Eastern on Saturday and will conclude at the same time on Sunday. Nearly the entire race will be shown live on NBCSN, with the only gaps in coverage being 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday evening and 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Here is the full entry list provided by IMSA.
So make a pot of coffee, stay up and support your favorite IndyCar stars of past and present as we get ready for another terrific year of auto racing in North America.
Header image courtesy of Team Penske.