The 2023 racing season unofficially began a couple of weekend’s ago down in Tulsa for the 37th annual Chili Bowl. Now, the season really kicks into gear for the 61st annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Most assume this as the “official” start to the racing season.
A prestigious race that goes twice around the clock with some of the biggest stars in motorsports in one place – the birthplace of Speed, the Daytona Interational Speedway.
With that said, I won’t pretend to be an expert at sports car racing. My expertise comes more so in INDYCAR and NASCAR. However, I still annually watch. It’s racing, it’s Daytona and it has some INDYCAR and NASCAR flavor. This preview and storylines that I’ll feature here are for what I specifically will be watching and doing so in the eyes of a more casual viewer than the ones I do for my usual analysis of the other forms of motorsports that I cover.
This race may be in NASCAR’s backyard, but the Rolex 24 will feature plenty of INDYCAR flavor. 10 full-time NTT INDYCAR Series drivers and 6 full-time organizations (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, Rahal, Meyer Shank Racing and Rick Ware Racing) will be racing this weekend. Initially it was supposed to be 11 but Will Power had to withdraw himself.
His teammates of Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin will be there and will share a ride in the No. 8 Tower Motorsports entry in the LMP2 category. Racing against them will be Devlin DeFrancescso with Rick Ware Racing’s No. 81 ORECA. The second year INDYCAR driver is joined by defending Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric, more on him later, Pietro Fittipaldi and Eric Lux. Rinus VeeKay will also pilot the No. 11 TDS Racing entry too.
Former part-timers Ben Hanley and Esteban Gutierrez also share a ride in that class in the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA. Another former full-time driver in Ed Jones is in the No. 20 High Class Racing ride, while current Indy Lights driver Christian Rasmussen is in the No. 18 ERA Motorsports entry.
That’s 6 of the 10 rides with an INDYCAR tie.
Second year driver Kyle Kirkwood will run the No. 12 Lexus for Vasser Sullivan in the GTD Daytona category. Romain Grosjean will run the No. 66 Iron Lynx entry in GTD-Daytona Pro class.
In the top division, the GTP category, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon will go for his fourth career overall Daytona victory in the No. 01 Cadillac in the GTP class. He’s teaming with former open wheel driver Sebastien Bourdais.
Between the Penske duo and Dixon, that’s 3 of the top 4 of the final 2022 INDYCAR standings racing in Daytona this weekend.
Ganassi will feature two cars in the upper class with Penske also having a pair of Porsche’s themselves. Ironically enough, neither of the three INDYCAR drivers for the Captain will race for him in it. They’re not the only INDYCAR teams in IMSA this year.
For Ganassi, it would be their 7th overall win but first since 2015. They won 2 in a three-year span then but none since. They also won their other four in a six-year span between 2006 and 2011. If Dixon’s car wins, it would be his 4th overall victory at Daytona which puts him in a tie-for second most ever with Pedro Rodriguez (63, 64, 70, 71), Bob Wollek (83, 85, 89, 91), Peter Gregg (73, 75, 76, 78) and Rolf Stommelen (68, 78, 80, 82). Only Scott Pruett (94, 07, 08, 11, 13) and Hurley Haywood (73, 75, 77, 79, 91) have more (5).
In the case of Penske, they have 1 win as that came in 1969 with Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons. Porsche however has the most overall victories of any manufacturer with 22, scored by various models, including the road based 911, 935 and 996. Porsche had also won a record 11 consecutive races from 1977 to 1987 and won 18 out of 23 races from 1968 to 1991. Penske and Porsche were the first to test this new GTP car and got the most work in for it. How much of an advantage is that? Porsche’s last overall Daytona win came in 2010.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing with BMW will feature two entries also in GTP with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta driving one of them. He’ll pilot the No. 25 BMW. The 22-year-old already has two Rolex’s to his collection in classes victories in GTLM (2019) and LMP2 (2022). Can he get a third in GTP now on Sunday?
Defending series champs and race winners, Meyer Shank Racing, has an Acura in the field and will have both of their INDYCAR drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, racing in the No. 60 entry.
Andretti Autosport has teamed with Wayne Taylor Racing on their No. 10 Acura as well as having their own team in LMP3. However, like Penske, Andretti won’t have any of their drivers in either ride.
Wayne Taylor Racing has won 4 of the last 6 overall crowns including 3 of the last 4 at that.
Meyer Shank Racing The Favorites
It’s hard to label a favorite in a race that’s so unpredictable, but there’s no doubt the MSR camp are the ones to beat. They were the fastest during last week’s Roar and scored the pole. Now, can they close the deal?
If they can it would be another historic moment for Helio Castroneves. This would be his 3rd overall Rolex crown. He’d become the 16th driver to do so. However, none of the previous 15 had won three straight watches. Castroneves could be the first.
He has 4 Indy 500 wins, tied for the most ever. Does a 3rd straight Rolex watch put him in a different racing category than one he’s already in?
He won the 2021 race with Wayne Taylor Racing. He won last year with MSR. He’s back this year with them and teaming with Simon Pageanud, Colin Braun and Tom Blomqvist. 3 of the 4 were teammates last year. Braun replaces the departing, Oliver Jarvis.
Similar team, similar car, same track.
Austin Cindric Trying For Fare Feat Too
Austin Cindric is a road racer by nature. That’s his background and the second year Cup Series driver thought that he’d have far more success at Daytona in a sports car than a Cup car. Instead, his Daytona 500 win as a rookie a year ago was a triumph that even shocked him.
Now, he returns to Daytona to take part in the 24 Hours race again. This is his fifth foray into the round the clock twice event. Cindric, is the only Cup driver in the race and hoping to join Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon as winners of both the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24.
It’s back to the future to IMSA. A return to the Grand Touring Protype name that was used from the early 80’s (debuted in 1981) and ended in the early 90’s (1993) is back. However, this class also has a futuristic side to it as well with the new hybrid technology. According to IMSA, this is an entirely new rule book. This class features new powertrains marrying traditional internal combustion engines with Bosch’s Motor Generation Unit, an energy recovery system including batteries supplied by WAE Technologies and an Xtrac gearbox. There’s a new tire, new parts and each of them being scarce in supply, this class is the fastest but will also get the most attention for those previous factors in and of itself.
Can they last all 24 hours?
During testing, most of the teams were having troubles. Is this a survival of the fittest? How many of the 9 cars in this class can make it to the end?
Is this a year another class gets the overall win on Sunday afternoon?
In GTP, Acura has won the last two 24 hour races in Daytona which ended Cadillac’s four-year reign prior. Now, they have more company by the addition of Porsche and BMW added to the list.
The Acura (MSR) and Cadillac (WTR, Ganassi) looked to be the quickest in the Roar but will BMW’s (RLL) or Porsche’s (Penske) reliability win in the end?
Long Race So Don’t Get Too Carried Away Early
61 cars spanning over 5 classes in a race that goes around the clock twice on a 3.56-mile track that features an oval and road course all in one. The oval turns are banked 31-degrees in the two end and a tri-oval at 18 degrees. The infield is a flat road course. Combined, it’s an event that you can’t get too carried away too early. Starting positions don’t matter. It’s a 24-hour race for crying out loud. Track position is just that, a position on the track. It doesn’t matter until late.
There’s a plethora of pit stops. Problems are going to occur. It’s how you respond to them as far as to what separates a winner on Sunday and a tired yet frustrated team crawling to bed that evening.
What does matter, is taking care of your car in more than one way.
Each of these classes vary in the speeds that they’re traveling in. The GTP class is clearly the fastest. The LMP2 division is 5-7 seconds slower than the GTP cars. Over the course of 24 hours, there’s LAPS, plural, difference in the end. But, if the GTP cars have reliability issues, how close can a LMP2 car get to them. What about the LMP3’s to the LMP2’s?
That’s a possibility.
The other factor is with the speed differential is an art to not only passing, but to being passed. You can’t catch a slower class in the wrong spot but you also can’t run over them either. You have to be meticulous and pristine in your approach to getting by. It’s all about timing.
On the flipside, there’s an art to being passed. You know if you’re in a GTD car, you’re racing among yourself and have a noticeable deficit to the LMP cars and GTP class. You have to stay out of their way and do so in the right spots too.
That’s why this race is so intriguing in a sense that you have 61 cars with most going different speeds. So I watch it casually early with the knowledge that it’s all going to change over the course of the night. It’s all about positioning yourself for the final sprint to the end.
Actual Sports Car Part – What’s The Difference?
With the difference in cars, some may wonder, what am I watching? 28 of the 61 cars (46%) look one way. Those are the protypes and those are separated into the three classes (GTP, LMP2, LMP3). That leaves 33 of the 61 cars (54%) looking another. Those are still split into two categories as well.
The 33 “other” cars are ones that look like road cars. That’s why they may look more familiar to the novice fan. But, why are they separated into two categories then?
That’s because of a class rating that’s distinguished by the FIA. The top rating is Platinum, then down to Gold, then to Silver and lastly to Bronze.
GTD Pro is only for Platinum and Gold-rated drivers, while just GTD, has some Platinum’s and Golds, but also features Silver and Bronze drivers too.
How To Tune In
Peacock will carry the entire 24-hour race live from flag to flag. If you don’t have Peacock, here’s how else you can watch:
1:30 – 2:30 pm ET: NBC
2:30 – 8 pm: USA
8 – 10 pm: Peacock Only
10 pm – Midnight ET: USA
Midnight – 6 a.m. ET: Peacock Only
6 a.m. – Noon ET – USA
Noon – 2 p.m. ET – NBC