By: Tanner Watkins
January 3, 2019 | 6:45 AM
A staple in the winter motorsports calendar, the annual Rolex 24 at Daytona is just a few weeks away. North America’s premier 24-hour endurance race will formally kick off the 2020 sports car season while also giving IndyCar fans their first looks at some familiar faces.
But before the 58th running of this event takes place on January 25 and 26, teams and drivers have made their way to Daytona International Speedway this weekend for the “Roar Before the 24.” The Roar, as it is affectionately called, preps teams for the big race later in the month, and allows drivers to shake the rust off.
Most importantly, qualifications for the Rolex 24 are held during Roar weekend, with the GTD and LMP2 classes qualifying on Saturday while GTLM and DPi take care of business on Sunday. Practice sessions for all classes will be scattered throughout the weekend.
A host of notables from IndyCar’s past and present will be on-hand for this weekend’s festivities – though a few drivers have made some team changes due to ripples in the IMSA paddock.
With Chip Ganassi Racing closing its sports car operation for 2020 (due to Ford’s exit from the sport), drivers such as Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe were all left looking for new rides this January.
In the end, Bourdais ended up with Mustang Sampling Racing – which will also trot out former IndyCar driver Tristan Vautier this weekend – competing in the Daytona Prototype International class (DPi).
Vautier will also hop in the JDC-Miller MotorSports No. 85 DPi machine (which will have former AJ Foyt Racing driver Matheus Leist and Road to Indy product Juan Piedrahita as drivers) this weekend, splitting time between the two affiliated teams.
For Dixon and Briscoe, they each found homes with the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi. The DPi class will host more names with IndyCar ties than any other class, including Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest machine, as well as former IndyCar race winner Mike Conway in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi.
Last but certainly not least, Acura Team Penske is back in 2020 with the third year of its DPi program. The group will bring two cars with loads of talent behind the wheel, including Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya driving for the No. 6 team while Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi pilot the No. 7.
It is important to note, though, that team and driver combinations can (and normally do) change between now and the 24-hour race itself.
Moving down the classification ladder, a couple of Indy notables can be found in LMP2. Rick Ware Racing has brought on BYRD Racing driver James Davison for a run in the No. 2 Multimatic/Riley LMP2, while Ben Hanley will drive for his IndyCar team DragonSpeed in the No. 81 ORECA LMP2 entry this weekend.
Before coming to IndyCar, DragonSpeed cut its teeth on sports car racing. The team qualified for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 in its first try while two Carlin efforts and the well-funded McLaren team failed in time trials.
In the GT Le Mans category, talented youngster Colton Herta will return to the Rolex 24 as a driver for the No. 25 BMW Team RLL effort. Last January, Herta and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team won their class in the No. 25 BMW, which was topped by the California native’s maiden IndyCar win at Circuit of the Americas later in the spring.
And for GT Daytona, a handful of drivers with open-wheel ties can be found in what is the largest class for this year’s event.
Townsend Bell and Aaron Telitz are teaming up in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan entry (driving a Lexus RC-F GT3) while Jack Hawksworth will be in the seat for Vasser-Sullivan’s No. 14 machine. Joining Hawksworth in the No. 14 is defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch – embarking on his first foray into endurance racing.
GEAR Racing powered by GRT Grasser is touting an all-female lineup at Daytona this year, which includes Katherine Legge in the No. 19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. The team is expected to have Ana Beatriz join Legge for race weekend later this month.
Rounding out the IndyCar-centric field is former Champ Car race winner AJ Allmendinger, driving the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with MSR Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3.
As always, IndyCar fans will have plenty of drivers to root for (or against) for this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, offering a nice bit of motorsports action to whet the palette before February testing begins.
The only action to be broadcast this weekend will be the IMSA Prototype Challenge, shown from 12:15 to 3:15 PM ET via IMSA Trackpass. The Prototype Challenge will re-air on January 14 on NBCSN at 4:30 PM ET.
NBC and NBCSN will offer coverage of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 25 from 1:30 to 6:00 PM ET before the action heads to the NBC Sports App from 6:00 to 11:00 PM ET.
NBCSN again picks up the baton at 11:00 PM, carrying it into Sunday at 3:00 AM ET. From 3:00 to 6:00 AM ET, the NBC Sports App again takes the lead before the race finishes out on NBCSN (6:00 AM to 12:30 PM ET) and NBC (12:00 to 2:00 PM ET).
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for coverage of the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona as we follow IndyCar drivers through America’s premier endurance race.
Header image by Christopher Owens/INDYCAR.