The presence of IndyCar drivers in the Rolex 24 At Daytona field is far from new, but what’s in store for this year’s edition of IMSA’s grand season-opener is nothing less than extraordinary.
As the current entry list stands, no less than 15 NTT IndyCar Series drivers will participate in this weekend’s Roar Before The 24 test at Daytona International Speedway roval and return for the January 25-28 race. If the number holds, more than 50 percent of full-time IndyCar drivers will be in action across the four WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes.
The most heavily subscribed is Andretti Global, which has all three of its IndyCar drivers headed to Daytona. Two of those drivers – Marcus Ericsson in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 hybrid GTP, and Colton Herta in the sister No. 40 WTRA Acura – are racing with the home team while Kirkwood, who has a longstanding relationship with Lexus, is set to race in the defending GTD Pro championship-winning No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 with Vasser Sullivan (main image).
“It’s cool, no doubt about that,” Kirkwood told RACER. “I think drivers are realizing that there’s a benefit to doing the 24, which is getting easier, because I feel like some teams might have been skeptical years ago about letting their drivers go out and drive other cars. But now, IndyCar teams are actually pushing for it. Like at Andretti, they said, ‘Hey, we want you doing the 24. We want you in a car; doesn’t matter what car you’re in. We want you driving, we want you active, and a lot more drivers and teams are now on that mindset. I think everyone in the field would do it if they had an opportunity.”
Chip Ganassi will have three of its five IndyCar drivers in motion at the Roar and Rolex 24, led by Scott Dixon and Alex Palou in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R hybrid GTP entry, and Kyffin Simpson — a rookie to IndyCar, but a race- and championship-winning sports car driver — will be in the No. 81 DragonSpeed ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2.
Meyer Shank Racing, which will miss its first Rolex 24 in 20 years, will be represented by its 2022 IMSA DPi champion Tom Blomqvist, who is joining the defending GTP champions at Action Express Racing in the No. 31 Cadillac V-Series.R, and Felix Rosenqvist, who is signed to United Autosports USA’s No. 22 ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2.
Most of the Arrow McLaren team will be in action at Daytona, with Alexander Rossi on the factory McLaren program with Pfaff Motorsports in the No. 9 McLaren 720S GT3 in GTD Pro, and former Rolex 24 class winner Pato O’Ward is chasing another Rolex watch, this time with United Autosports USA’s No. 2 ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2. Take O’Ward and former Arrow McLaren teammate Rosenqvist driving for the UAUSA team that’s co-owned by McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, and Rossi in the McLaren-affiliated Pfaff team, and the papaya roots run deep.
McLaughlin and Newgarden were part of Tower’s LMP2 line-up at Daytona in 2023. This time around McLaughlin will again race with Tower, while Newgarden will suit up for Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No.7 Porsche 963. Richard Dole/Motorsport Images
It’s a similar two-fer with Team Penske as Josef Newgarden is returning to Porsche Penske Motorsport in the No. 7 Porsche 963 hybrid, and his IndyCar teammate – but former Bus Bro – Scott McLaughlin is also picking up where he left off in 2023 with the Tower Motorsports LMP2 team in the No. 8 ORECA 07-Gibson. Given McLaughlin’s extreme pace in LMP2 last season where he won at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, it’s unclear as to why he hasn’t been brought into Penske’s Porsche GTP effort.
The rest on the list are solo representatives, starting with Romain Grosjean from Juncos Hollinger Racing, who is part of the Iron Lynx program with the No. 60 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in the GTD category. New Ed Carpenter Racing driver and 2023 Indy NXT champion Christian Rasmussen is signed to the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2 team, and 2022-2023 Andretti driver Devlin DeFrancesco, who is trying hard to secure a new IndyCar home, has Daytona and the other endurance events on the books with Forte Racing, led by former IndyCar team principal Shane Seneviratne, in the Petit Le Mans-winning No. 78 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in GTD.
Kirkwood likens the Roar Before The 24 and Rolex 24 to a couple of pre-season games where he and the other IndyCar drivers can get back in the groove and shorten the acclimatization process that comes with spending months away from their Dallara DW12 cockpits.
“You come in feeling rusty and everyone’s on par with you and everyone’s saying the same things,” he said. “Because when you’re out of the car for so long, you’re like, ‘Man, am I gonna show up? Am I going to suck? What’s this going to be like when I get back in the car? Am I going to be rusty?’ Daytona is good one to knock the rust off, and it’s really confidence-boosting before the start of the IndyCar season.”
As one of the IndyCar stars competing in the slower GT classes, some might mistake Kirkwood’s Rolex 24 as one that will be less exciting than what his rivals in GTP and LMP2 get to experience, but the Florida native says that assumption would be entirely wrong.
“Have you looked at the GT field?” he said. “You’re like, ‘Man, this is the toughest field out of out of all the categories.’ It’s the biggest class. It’s the closest racing. There’s more wheel banging in GTs with all world class drivers than anywhere else. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be in any other category. I love GT racing.
“And this is a big year for GT racing with all the new updates, with the addition of Ford with their new Mustang. It’s a rocketship in a straight line. So they’re going to be hard to beat. There’s the switch-up with Pfaff and McLaren. There’s so many aspects to consider. And we know we’re going to have to keep stepping our game up at Vasser Sullivan.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job. They have this mindset to just keep going for it. They want to win another championship. The day after we won the championship, they’re like, ‘What do we need to do to win another?’ It was already about what’s next, not what we’d just done. And we’re all on board with that.”