Happy new racing year, Open-Wheels followers! I hope everyone out there is making it through the winter, and for all of you south of the equator, I hope you’re enjoying a nice summer down there too.
But it’s the middle of January, and in the world of motorsports, it means we can once again start looking forward to the first big show on the calendar, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The entry list features an all-star roster of drivers and the American open wheel racing ranks are supplying a major portion of stars.
Many of the driver partnerships between the 2017 and 2018 races are still intact – either as part-time or full-time rides – but given certain elements such as rules package changes, the removal of the Prototype Challenge class, and a bit of team shuffling, I have added some notes about what happened in 2017 beyond the Rolex as well, and in some cases list notable driver changes.
Our friend and Open-Wheels contributor Justin Reschke reviewed drivers competing in the event that have most recently competed in IndyCar (within the last year), so today we will take a look at some old faces of IndyCar’s past.
Last year’s race saw one of the Rolex watches go to an IndyCar driver while driving for an IndyCar owner’s team, as Sebastien Bourdais took victory driving for Chip Ganassi’s No. 66 Ford in the GT Le Mans class.
Given the massive depth of talent it will be very refreshing to see what our open wheel faithful will accomplish on the high banks this weekend. For this preview we will group drivers by which class they will be driving in, while ordering teams based on the lowest car number on that team to make the list.
As with the first preview, we will post some outside resources at the bottom of this article. If there are any updates to be made between now and the race, they will be reflected on this list.
The professional prototype class now stands on its own in 2018, and some big names have answered the call for this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Roger Penske will bring out some of his best drivers (and even recruit an IndyCar hotshoe) in an attempt to make a big splash in their maiden Acura Team Penske campaign. This group also boasts the most former and current IndyCar drivers, so take a look at the 2018 prototype class.
Extreme Speed Motorsports: No. 2 – Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp
Extreme Speed overcame a slow start to their season with two wins in the last three events, including the No. 2 car triumphing at Petit Le Mans after their teammate Pipo Derani in the No. 22 suffered a late race drive-through penalty. In addition to open-wheel veteran Scott Sharp and 2007 ChampCar entrant Dalziel winning at Road Atlanta, the team scored two additonal third place finishes in the three preceding events, giving the team some momentum entering 2018.
Action Express Racing: No. 5 – Christian Fittipaldi (Mustang Sampling Racing Team) and No. 31 – Mike Conway (Whelen Engineering Racing team)
Had it not been for a very opportunistic move, it could have easily been the Mustang Sampling Cadillac drivers strapping on another set of Rolexes last year.
Christian Fittipaldi is now scaling back on events at this point in his career – focusing on just the endurance races. Mike Conway returns to sports car racing in the Whelen No. 31 after scoring podiums at Sebring and Petit Le Mans last year.
With the Cadillac DPis looking extremely promising in the Roar Before the 24 sessions just as they did last year, the chances are great that at least one of these drivers will be in the running until the very end.
AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports: No. 52 – Sebastian Saavedra and Roberto Gonzalez
Sebastian Saavedra and AFS support provide some extra financial insurance towards this joint effort with PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. After being kicked out of a seat at last year’s race at the nick of time in favor of Conor Daly, Saavedra certainly has reason to give it his all this year.
Some trepidation may surround Roberto Gonzalez, given his relative lack of success in ChampCar and anonymity of sports car success since then, but if the team can keep their patience then there’s hope they keep the car in one piece.
Jackie Chan DC Racing: No. 78 – Ho-Pin Tung
Everyone’s favorite Dutch-Chinese driver (for all you newer Indy fans, you read that correctly) is among the more surprising entries in this list. But, he has participated in IndyCar nonetheless and like Alonso, shouldn’t be ignored.
Even if you don’t know Tung very well, you probably do recognize his car owner is Jackie Chan. Chan’s team took two spots on the overall podium at Le Mans last year as an LMP2 team, almost winning the race outright until a furious charge by Porsche’s factory LMP1 got the German marque back on top.
Tung was among the trio that finished first in class and second overall. With a spirited run like that, don’t sleep on these guys.
Spirit of Daytona Racing: No. 90 – Tristan Vautier
The darling of last year’s Texas IndyCar race for Dale Coyne Racing, Tristan Vautier’s upswing seems to be building momentum.
Spirit of Daytona delivered one of the best moments of 2017 with Renger van der Zande’s jaw-dropping Alex Zanardi impression in the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, but their driver lineup has undergone quite the revamp.
But if Vautier is as good at Daytona as he was at Texas (and Spirit of Daytona’s switch to Cadillac won’t hurt his chances), he can get these guys in a solid spot. The Spirit did capture a podium on the high banks last year, but only time will tell.
GT LeMans Class
Competition remains fierce in the small but powerful GT LeMans class. Chip Ganassi Racing remains the largest IndyCar representative in class with tons of talent, but they have quite a rival that will give them a run for the Rolex.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing: No. 67 – Ryan Briscoe
The loss of Tony Kanaan from Ganassi’s 2018 IndyCar team is also reflected in his 2018 Rolex 24 lineup – albeit Kanaan was racing one of his UK cars last year, neither of which are appearing this weekend. Otherwise, the two remaining cars remain intact.
Ryan Briscoe pairs up with his old IndyCar teammate in Scott Dixon (throw in Richard Westbrook as well) in the No. 67 entry while Hand and Muller make their seat comfy for Sebastien Bourdais as the No. 66 threesome tries to defend their top step of the GT LeMans podium.
Corvette Racing: No. 3 – Jan Magnussen
The 2018 Daytona 24 gets to be a father/son outing for the Magnussen family, and while they won’t be sharing a ride like Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Jr. did in a bright yellow No. 3 Corvette back in 2001, you can bet there will be plenty of opportune photos taken should Jan and Kevin be in proximity of each other on the track.
Jan’s CART career garnered little attention back in the 1990s – similar to his tenure in Formula One – but his sports car credentials have more than made up for it since then. Magnussen is part of the defending class champion Corvette car and has also won the event in GT LeMans with Ryan Briscoe back in 2015.
But recent history may point to the dramatic photo finish near-miss for Magnussen in 2016 as Corvette’s signature moment at the event. No matter what moments you look at though, there’s always something exciting about the Corvettes charging at Daytona.
GT Daytona Class
The pro-am GT class is as gigantic this year as last, but the IndyCar contingency is more sparse than the prototype class. Of the three classes in the field, this class may be the most difficult one for the contingency to strap on a watch at the end of the race, but there could be an awesome fight getting there.
GRT Grasser Racing Team: No. 11 – Franck Perera
Franck Perera is another name whose open wheel connotations may be lost among newer fans. He was a victim of the 2008 IRL/Champ Car World Series unification and as a result, was squeezed out of a ride. But like many open wheel dropouts he’s made a second home out of sports car racing and will represent this Austrian Lamborghini squad in GTD at the Rolex 24. His car will include a Blancpain Series champion in Mirko Bortoletti.
3GT Racing: No. 14 – Bruno Junqueira, No. 15 – Jack Hawksworth and Scott Pruett
First and foremost, a happy trails to the man, myth, and legend Scott Pruett, who will be retiring after the conclusion of this year’s Daytona 24. It’s been a fantastic and vibrant career for Pruett, and while the Lexus team had a shaky debut last year, it’d only be appropriate to summon up the old magic one last time (it worked for Jeff Gordon and Max Angelelli last year).
It’ll certainly be an emotional climax if Pruett and Hawksworth have a chance at the end. By the way, let’s not discount Bruno Junqueira’s savvy either, as he moves from a one-off PC ride (not at Daytona last year) to a GTD team hopefully on the rise. A good veteran like him can do wonders for 3GT Racing.
Scuderia Corsa: No. 64 – Townsend Bell
Always the sportscar journeyman, Townsend Bell reunites with Ferrari and Scuderia Corsa in the States, his third different manufacturer in the Rolex 24 over the last three seasons (after Lamborghini and Audi).
Bell and faithful co-driver Bill Sweedler backed up their class victory at Le Mans in 2016 with a solid third place effort in 2017, and this combination of team and drivers also claimed the 2015 GTD championship including a win at VIR.
While he may consider himself retired from the Indianapolis 500, Bell has a great chance to prove his watch is still ticking.
Michael Shank Racing: No. 86 – A.J. Allmendinger and Katherine Legge
How about one more big reunion to finish this list off? A.J. Allmendinger and Michael Shank have been great friends in the sports car ranks, complete with a memorable overall victory in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona after banging panels with Allan McNish.
Currently, the stock is high for Michael Shank and his operation after a very successful GTD debut for both his team and Acura, with Katherine Legge and Andy Lally scoring four top-two finishes in an ultra-deep and competitive class.
A.J. hasn’t lost a step as a road racer during his time in NASCAR, and in fact, his stock car experience may be more valuable to this GT ride than during his prototype appearances.
Here are some helpful links to get you settled in for a full weekend of racing from Daytona Beach.
- Spotter guide for the full field, courtesy of Andy Blackmore Design
- IMSA Radio steaming live online
- IMSATV steaming live online
- IMSA YouTube channel
- LiveScoring timing and scoring portal
This concludes the entry list for the past and present IndyCar drivers in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. With plenty of time remaining before the race begins, I strongly suggest you check some of these other pages out between now and the beginning of the race. Television coverage in the United States begins on Saturday, January 28 at 2:00 PM Eastern on Fox and the big green board starts counting down at 2:40 PM Eastern.
Let’s go sports car racing!
Open-Wheels thanks Ian Hoffman for his guest appearance as a contributor on the site and his dazzling review of former IndyCar drivers in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona. This article was derived, by permission and in collaboration, from Ian’s original write-up on American open-wheel veterans appearing at this year’s Rolex 24 found on Reddit.