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Looking for a reason to watch this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona? Well, we've got 24 of 'em as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship kicks off the major-league sports car season at Daytona International Speedway.
Here's a look at 24 things that have caught our attention ahead of the 62nd (or is it 57th?) Rolex:
62nd Rolex 24 Deserves an Asterisk
This year’s Rolex is presented as the 62nd running of the 24-hour. But there were a few hiccups along the way since the first three-hour Continental was run in 1963.
The race was not bumped up to 24 hours until 1966, which became a test run for Ford’s beating of Ferrari at Le Mans. In 1972, the august officialdom of the FIA decided only one 24-hour could be run (at Le Mans of course). That hiatus lasted one year until Big Bill France, who was sometimes fond of sending telegrams that started with the F-word, told the FIA to get lost. The oil embargo canceled the 1974 race.
From this perspective, it’s the 57th running of the 24-hour. Party on nevertheless.
New GTP Number
The luscious red Acura ARX-06 No. 40 gives WTRAndretti two entries after Honda Performance Development elected to combine its effort instead of backing two independent teams in the WeatherTech Championship.
Last year’s Rolex 24-winning Meyer Shank Racing team lost its HPD deal in this shuffle. The two cars/one roof decision likely would have been made even without the Meyer Shank team’s tire pressure cheating scandal in the Rolex.
Risk and Reward of Customer Teams
After joining the GTP ranks last year, Porsche 963 customer teams and Daytona veterans JDC-Miller and Proton Competition will start the Rolex 24 with their hybrid prototypes for the first time.
The customer cars are about risk and reward, said Urs Kuratle, director of Porsche’s LMDh program. The customer teams contribute to knowledge about reliability and technology. The risk is getting bogged down in customer support.
“We have more cars, but we have more cars to take care of,” said Kuratle.
Yankees Up in GTP
Starting with the Rolex 24, a high-water mark of four Americans will be regular competitors in GTP.
Jordan Taylor moves from Corvette Racing to WTRAndretti’s additional Acura ARX-06 entry. Dane Cameron is switching from the WEC program of Porsche Penske Motorsport to the stateside team. Americans Connor De Phillippi of BMW and Acura driver Ricky Taylor start their second GTP seasons.
Strong Get Stronger at Porsche Penske
In a series where engineers often earn six figures, the combined resources of Porsche and Penske make their competitors wary. Perhaps for good reason.
At Daytona, the two-car Porsche 963 factory team is introducing a new pit wall combination. Brandon Fry has been hired away from his technical director duties at the BMW team of Rahal Letterman Lanigan to become the lead engineer for the Penske squad.
“He’s there to make sure we get all of the performance out of the cars during a race,” said Jonathan Diuguid, director of the Porsche Penske team.
Blomqvist Goes for the Hat Trick
Only Tom Blomqvist returns to the GTP ranks from last year’s winning Meyer Shank Racing team. Driving for Action Express, Blomqvist will try to match his former teammate Helio Castroneves’ record of winning three Rolex watches on the trot.
Two Winning Donohues
When there’s an incident on the track during the Rolex that requires investigation, the crew of IMSA officials in the tower resort to instant video replay.
The difference between many stick-and-ball leagues and IMSA is that a crew, led by the race director, look at the video before making its decision. (They may also place calls to teams and corner workers.)
This year, David Donohue will join IMSA’s race control crew. Donohue co-drove to the Rolex victory with Brumos Racing in 2009—40 years after father Mark Donohue co-drove to victory in the 24-hour on board a Penske Lola.
Betting on Yellow
For those who like online betting and are looking for a racing angle, this year’s over/under is 90 for the number of laps run under full course yellow at the Rolex. (Are we just making this up? Well, yes.)
Last year, the number of laps run under caution was 87 out of a total of 783. The LMP3 class’s absence this year should lighten up the yellows. (Four of nine LMP3 entries were DNFs last year.) But intense competition in GTD is likely to take up the slack.
Formula 1 Drivers All Over the Place
To the best of our recollection, there is a record number of former participants in Formula 1 in this year’s race. Twelve drivers have started at least one F1 race.
The four with more than 100 F1 starts are Rolex rookies Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, plus Romain Grosjean and Eddie Cheever.
The 2009 F1 champion Button, who last year made an appearance at the Rolex as part of the Garage 56 crew for Le Mans, will step into the No. 40 Acura of WTRAndretti.
The would-be 2008 F1 champion Massa, who has recently protested that he won the title that year instead of Lewis Hamilton, is co-driving the Riley Motorsports-entered LMP2 of George Robinson.
Grosjean is preparing to drive the Lamborghini SC63 prototype at Sebring by piloting a Huracan with Iron Lynx, where he raced last year.
Cheever who grew up in Italy, joins the Italian Cetilar team in its Ferrari 296 GT3 entry. He first raced the Rolex in 1988 on board a TWR Jaguar XJR-9.
Other drivers in the field with F1 starts to their credit include Jack Aitken, Sebastien Bourdais, Gianmaria Bruni, Paul di Resta, Marcus Ericsson, Brendon Hartley, Felipe Nasr and Alexander Rossi.
Zilisch Is Latest Next Big Thing
Connor Zilisch, everybody’s favorite up-and-coming IMSA driver, will start his first WeatherTech Championship race in the LMP2 class with Era Racing at age 17. But he’s eventually bound for NASCAR after signing with Trackhouse Racing during the off season.
Where's Waldo... We Mean Helio
Unfortunately, Helio Castroneves, who does not have a ride this year, will miss a chance to become the first driver to win four straight Rolexes on the heels of winning his fourth Indy 500 in 2021.
Castroneves won with Wayne Taylor Racing before switching to Meyer Shank Racing’s team in 2022 and 2023. Currently, the only race on his 2024 schedule is the Indy 500.
Rush Hour Traffic
Jordan Taylor posted an apology in advance on Facebook to his former fellow GT drivers about flashing his headlights before passing.
Taylor, who has moved back to his father Wayne Taylor’s Acura prototype team from Corvette Racing, apparently intends to give no quarter.
How bad is it when it comes to prototypes and GT cars? Not as bad as the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta due to the ease of passing while on the banking at Daytona. Also, the inevitable cautions tend to make it easier to give up some time without fear of falling off the lead lap on the 3.56-mile course.
Still, traffic is bad enough that the little grandstand near the entrance to The Kink is well populated for the entire race by fans looking for close racing and/or “avoidable contact.”
Best to Avoid 'Incident Responsibility'
IMSA officials this year prefer the term “incident responsibility” when it comes to assessing penalties in place of “avoidable contact.”
Either way, intentional contact is occasionally at work.
The LMP3 prototype class never quite took off and has been dropped into the VP Racing Challenge.
And, with LMP2 dropped from WEC events except Le Mans, there’s a bumper crop of 12 of the ORECA-built LMP2 entries at the Rolex. It’s the one class requiring at least one bronze driver, usually the team or car owner.
Will IMSA ever try to accommodate fans confused by its multitude of classes and consolidate into a two-class structure consisting of GTP and GTD? It’s not up for discussion at this point by a series that relies, in part, on its “back gate,” i.e. licensing and entries, for revenue and wealthy gentlemen drivers.
The WEC, as a representative of the FIA’s member manufacturers, has a different philosophy, which gives it more wiggle room when it comes to presenting a race structure more coherent to fans.
Powered Down GT3s
Even if you have been hibernating, you probably know the new Corvette Z06 GT3.R and Mustang GT3 are making their official debuts in the Rolex 24.
Unless you’re a performance car enthusiast, there’s this other less known item. The Mustang GT3s produced in Flat Rock, Mich., and the Corvette Z06 GT3 that originates in Bowling Green, Ky., are more powerful than their IMSA versions, which are limited to between 500 and 600 horsepower by GT3 homologation. (Alas, they’re also lighter.)
(Only) Three for the Show
The addition of IndyCar champ Alex Palou to the Cadillac squad of Chip Ganassi Racing means Action Express of drivers Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist is the only remaining GTD entry to start the race with three drivers. Next year, IMSA is anticipated to require four drivers.
Keating's Loose Screw
The GTP ranks will be joined this year by Ben Keating, the peripatetic bronze-rated driver who will co-drive JDC Miller’s Porsche 963 in addition to his LMP2 ride with United Autosports USA.
“I have a screw loose,” said Keating, who turns 53 this year.
This T-Rex Has Some Hot Wheels
AO Racing’s “T-Rex” Porsche that won the GTD Pro class pole is well known for its toothy paint scheme across the front bumper. The “Rexy” car will soon be coming to a shelf near you in the form of a Hot Wheels entry.
One year after introducing tires to promote more double-stinting and green racing in GTP, Michelin has produced a new generation of sustainable tires for the WeatherTech Championship’s GTD classes designated the Pilot Sport Pro GT H1.
A new tire, albeit well tested, introduced at a track with banking and in a 24-hour race with a wide range of ambient temperatures?
No guts, no glory.
Remembering the FogBank 24
Matt Brabham will make his Rolex debut with the LMP2 team of AO Racing.
Brabham’s father Geoff, a four-time Camel GT champion, never won the Rolex. He might have won the enduro in 1989, but that was the infamous “FogBank 24” race that was halted for four hours because officials couldn’t see the back straight after fog rolled in.
Brabham was leading at the time the race was interrupted. But the engine in his Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo broke when it was re-cranked shortly before dawn. The procedure now, if needed, is to continue behind the pace car until the fog lifts.
Keep and Eye Out for Sonny Hayes... or Brad Pitt
The script for the new F1 movie starring Brad Pitt, rumored to be titled Apex, passes through the Rolex 24.
Wright Motorsport’s No. 120 Porsche, which is a special number for the team on behalf of the movie, will be shooting in-car footage during the race. Pitt is collaborating with the team to prepare for his role as an older driver who participates in the Rolex 24 before becoming a mentor to an F1 rookie.
No Shortage of Fast Women
Five women have scored a class victory in the Rolex, but that number could almost double if one of the two all-female entries wins.
Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk, and Tatiana Calderon start third in GTD in Gradient Racing’s Acura NSX.
Rachel Fry, Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin and Michelle Gatting start 13th in the Iron Dames Huracan. They are part of a record entry of nine women, including Ashton Harrison and Lilou Wadoux.
Colin Braun Gets New Life in LMP2
After some stellar stints in last year’s Rolex 24, Colin Braun was on the cusp of stardom as one of the few Americans in GTP. But his Meyer Shank Racing team’s tire pressure cheating scandal interrupted that trajectory.
Braun, who co-drove to victory in the Petit Le Mans at the end of last season, returns this year in LMP2 with CrowdStrike Racing.
The presence of several IndyCar and F1 stars on the entry list begs the question of where are the NASCAR stars who used to be fixtures in the Rolex?
Last year, Austin Cindric was the only driver participating from NASCAR’s three major traveling series. This year, there are none.