Preview of IndyCar drivers in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona

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Ford GT at 2018 Roar Before the 24

The Rolex 24 at Daytona rolls off this Saturday, January 27th, with 50 total entries. The race signals the start of the 2018 motorsports calendar, featuring four classes of sports cars competing to finish the grueling event at either the top of their class or

The prototype class features 20 entries driven by some of the premier names in international motorsport. Governed by the rules of IMSA, this class features cars manufactured by Acura, Cadillac, Ligier, Mazda, Oreca, and single entry by Multimatic/Riley.

These cars are balanced to similar performance standards to be competitive with each other throughout the endurance race.  These machines feature very similar power, weight, and aerodynamic characteristics to the cars found in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

The top GT class, GT Le Mans, features nine entries with sports cars manufactured by BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford, and Porsche.  These car are similar to their road-going counterparts, and are engineered to produce as much performance as possible.  There are no balancing standards found in this class.

GT Daytona is the secondary GT class with 21 entries in the race, featuring cars manufactured by Acura, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes and Porsche. Cars in the GTD category do not feature the same level of power and aerodynamics that the similar looking GTLM cars do, however the class does feature a very deep field composed of professional and amateur drivers.

This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona will give fans a great opportunity to witness some of the top open wheel talent from around the world compete in a variety of disciplines and machines. With so many top-level drivers competing in 2018, the Daytona 24 offers a great introduction to endurance racing for IndyCar fans.

Prototype Class

The prototype class features nine current or recent IndyCar drivers. This year’s prototype crop features stars such as Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Two-time Formula One World Champion and 2017 Indy 500 entrant Fernando Alonso will compete in Florida this weekend, as will 2016 IndyCar Series Champion Simon Pagenaud.  The appearances of multi-race winner Graham Rahal and Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais round out the list of major IndyCar winners at this year’s event.

Also of note, the prototype field includes young IndyCar pilots Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot. Here is a look at each current or recent IndyCar driver competing in the Prototype class:

Helio Castroneves
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and seasoned veteran is essentially a rookie when it comes to endurance racing. His only endurance experience thus far came just last October at Petit Le Mans where he was part of a three-headed monster for Team Penske Ligier.

The car, entered to gain experience in the class heading into Daytona, finished 3rd overall with the trio of Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel for the 10 hour event.

Acura Team Penske

Catch Acura Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal in this orange and white livery.

Helio will bring consistency as well as a quick – but methodical – driving style to the #7 Team Penske Acura.  Two Acura prototypes will be fielded by Team Penske for the Daytona 24, making their debut in a major endurance racing event.

Driving alongside Castroneves in the #7 will be IndyCar ace Graham Rahal, as well as IMSA WeatherTech Series champion and last year’s overall Daytona 24 winner, Ricky Taylor. While he may wish to still be driving for Team Penske in a full season IndyCar entry, there is no denying that Helio’s experience will play a vital role in a team stacked with three world class drivers aiming for victory at Daytona.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya will be entering his eighth Rolex 24 at Daytona as a three-time winner of the event. He most recently raced the Daytona 24 in 2013, piloting a Riley Prototype fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Montoya’s most recent experience in endurance racing came alongside Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud at Petit Le Mans last October.

Simon Pagenaud
French driver Simon Pagenaud will be competing in his fourth Daytona 24 but is a seasoned veteran when it comes to endurance racing. The 2016 IndyCar Champion has competed at Le Mans four times, including a 2nd overall finish in 2011.

In addition to experience at Daytona and Le Mans, Pagenaud won the American Le Mans Series championship with Highcroft Racing in 2010. For this weekend’s festivities, Pagenaud will be driving the #6 Acura Prototype fielded by Team Penske. His co-drivers will be endurance ace Dane Cameron and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. Pagenaud will continue with Team Penske in the IndyCar series in 2018 behind the wheel of his #22 Chevrolet.

Graham Rahal
Driving alongside Helio Castroneves in the #7 Team Penske Acura will be 6-time IndyCar race winner Graham Rahal. Rahal is no stranger to the 24 Hours of Daytona, having won the race while driving a Riley Prototype for Chip Ganassi in 2011. Rahal will be competing in the event for the sixth time. He, too, made the quick trek from Sebring to Daytona after testing his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda this week.

Fernando Alonso
Alonso shocked the racing world in 2017 when he announced plans to forego the Monaco Grand Prix and enter the Indianapolis 500. Extremely impressive behind the wheel of his McLaren Honda Andretti entry at the event, the Spaniard led 27 laps of the race before retiring from seventh place with engine troubles on lap 179.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso will get his second shot at an American racing jewel in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend.

With his ultimate goal of winning the Triple Crown (Monaco, Indianapolis, and Le Mans) still in play, this is Alonso’s first taste of endurance racing. He will be piloting the #23 United Autosports Ligier alongside Phil Hanson and McLaren F1 junior/reserve driver Lando Norris. United Autosports is owned and operated by McLaren boss Zak Brown.

A strong finish at Daytona will set Alonso up nicely for a potential drive at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it has been rumored that Toyota is keeping a seat warm for the two-time Formula One World Champion.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
The 2012 IndyCar Series Champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner will be competing in his fourth Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend.  Hunter-Reay finished his 2017 driving campaign behind the wheel of a Cadillac prototype fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing at Petit Le Mans and ran last year’s Daytona 24 with Michael Shank Racing, driving an Acura NSX in the GT Daytona field.

Fresh off of Sebring testing this week in his Andretti Autosport No. 28 Honda, look for Hunter-Reay and his Wayne Taylor teammates to be in the running late.

 

Sebastian Saavedra
Saavedra will be driving the No. 52 prototype for AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. A veteran of 63 IndyCar races, the 2018 24 Hours of Daytona will be Saavedra’s first taste of endurance racing. He will be driving alongside Gustavo Yacaman, Roberto Gonzalez, and Nicholas Boulle.

Spencer Pigot
As he looks forward to his first season as a full-time IndyCar driver, Pigot will enter his third Rolex 24 at Daytona piloting the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest DPi alongside sports car aces Harry Tinknell and Jonathan Bommarito.

Mazda will look to its talented driver lineup to deliver a positive result at this year’s event after struggling season after season to find consistency in the IMSA WeatherTech Series. Perhaps the new partnership with Joest – which helped Audi find many years of success at Le Mans – is the key to victory for Mazda and Pigot.

Pigot will be driving the No. 21 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing for the 2018 IndyCar campaign.

GT Le Mans Class

The GT Le Mans class at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona will see two top IndyCar stars take the green flag Saturday as Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais return to the event with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ford’s homecoming to the GT ranks has been a great story for race fans.  After struggling in the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona before going on to win at Le Mans that year, Ford Chip Ganassi won Florida’s 24 hour event last January.  Bringing all four of their racing Ford GTs – including two cars from Europe which compete in the World Endurance Championship – Chip Ganassi employed an impressive arsenal en route to victory.

For 2018, Ford returns to Daytona with their two North American team cars. Here is a look at what Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais will be bringing to the table this year:

Scott Dixon
Dixon will be competing in his 14th Rolex 24 at Daytona. The 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner has two overall wins at the event with his most recent victory coming in 2015, driving a Ford-powered Riley chassis in the prototype class.

Dixon will be behind the wheel of the No. 67 entry alongside Richard Westbrook and fellow IndyCar veteran Ryan Briscoe before returning to Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar stable for another assault on the championship in his #9 Honda.

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais captured victory in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with Ford Chip Ganassi.

Sebastien Bourdais
The Le Mans born racer returns to Daytona after winning the GT Le Mans class last year driving for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. He will be back behind the wheel of that same car searching for his third class victory.

Included in his three wins at Daytona is an overall victory in 2014 with Action Express Racing in the prototype class. This year, he will be driving alongside Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in his Ford GT – reuniting the same trio that captured victory in 2017.

After injury limited Bourdais to just 9 IndyCar starts in 2017, he will return to the #18 Dale Coyne Honda looking for a repeat of the early season success he was able to find last year.

GT Daytona Class

The GT Daytona class features a menagerie of names familiar to IndyCar fans.  The list includes Jack Hawksworth, Katherine Legge, and Townsend Bell. Hawksworth will be driving the No. 15 Lexus as the factory team searches for its first victory at Daytona. Also a driver in the Lexus effort will be CART veteran and endurance legend Scott Pruett, making his final start at Daytona.

Katherine Legge and A.J. Allmendinger will be piloting the No. 86 Acura NSX for Michael Shank Racing.  Legge is making her 5th start at Daytona while Allmendinger is making his 12th start (all with Michael Shank).

The Dinger has an overall win to his name that came in 2012 while driving a Shank Ford Riley Daytona Prototype.

Townsend Bell will be piloting the No. 64 Ferrari 488 for Scuderia Corsa. Bell holds a GT Daytona Class victory that came in 2016. With the GT Daytona category once again being the deepest class at the 24, these IndyCar stars will have an uphill climb if they hope to outlast the competition and end up on the top step of the podium.

Some interesting facts to note, courtesy of IndyCar:

  • There are 25 drivers in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona that have started at least one race in IndyCar
  • A total of 14 drivers have won at least one IndyCar race
  • 7 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers scheduled for rides in 2018 will be competing in the race.
  • This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona features 6 former IndyCar champions, including Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Sharp.
  • In five of the last seven years, the winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona has featured a Verizon IndyCar Series driver.

Here are some helpful links to get you settled in for a full weekend of racing from Daytona Beach.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona goes green on FOX at 2 PM Eastern with continuing coverage of the event on the FOX family of networks.  The race can be watched, uninterrupted, on IMSATV if you are not interested in FOX’s merry-go-round of coverage between the big channel, FS1, FS2 and Fox Sports Go.

The event will also be archived on IMSA’s YouTube channel for later viewing.

This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona offers the first chance each year to see past, present, and even future IndyCar stars compete on track for the first time in the New Year. Many of these drivers will go on to compete at the 12 hours of Sebring as well which takes place on March 17th, following the first race of the IndyCar calendar in 2018 which takes place on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 11th.

It should be a terrific weekend of racing, so settle in and enjoy some fun in the sun.

Justin Reschke

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