Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s “Star Car” returns to defend its victory in the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona, although many of the 13 entrants in the Prototype class can share that label entering the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday and Monday.
The lead class features a diverse mix of LM P2 entries with Daytona Prototypes along with the unique DeltaWing coupe. Based on lap times from the recent Roar Before the Rolex 24 test three weeks ago – the opening event for the Daytona International Speedway motors ports stadium after the completion of the $400-million Daytona Rising project – will feature a wide-open battle for the overall triumph.
Indianapolis 500 winners and IndyCar Series champions Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan share the No. 02 Ford EcoBoost/Riley DP they steered to victory a year ago along with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. The six-time Rolex 24 winning team also will field the No. 01 Ford/Riley DP for an international lineup featuring Alex Wurz, Brendon Hartley, Andy Priaulx and Lance Stroll.
“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is a very special race for us,” said Dixon, who also was part of Ganassi’s first Rolex 24 victory in 2006. “I think I’ve done every race for Chip here dating back to when he first entered the series back in 2004. It’s the kick off to the motor sports season and the whole Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team will be ready to go.”
“We have a solid lineup in the No. 02 again returning with Tony, Kyle and Jamie, and this team has a lot of experience in these types of races. You have to be strong for the entire 24 hours without mistakes. It’s a big task as always, and we hope to give the prototype a good send off and accomplish what we did last year,” he added.
Former Ganassi regular Scott Pruett teams up with long-rime rival Action Express Racing in a bid for an unprecedented sixth overall triumph in the event. He teams with defending two-time Prototype champions Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP, as well as 2013 Rolex 24 GT winner Felix Albuquerque in a lineup combing for a record 16 Rolex 24 class victories – most of any entry in the history of the event. Action Express also fields the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP for Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud and Jonny Adam.
Other Daytona Prototypes (DPs) opening their final year of eligibility before a new era for Prototype racing begins in 2017 are the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing entry of Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay; the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP of brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor with 2005 Rolex 24 winner Max Angelelli; and the No. 50 Fifty Plus Racing Foundation entry for former Rolex 24 winners Jim Pace and Dorsey Schroeder, joined by Byron DeFoor, David Hinton and Thomas Gruber. Next year, the Prototype type class will showcase a new car based on international LM P2 specifications known as Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars, which will feature involvement from multiple manufacturers.
Other Prototypes running competitive laps at the Roar included the unique No. 0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing coupe of Katherine Legge, Sean Rayhall, Andy Meyrick and Andreas Wirth.
Tom Kimber-Smith returns to defend his Prototype Challenge (PC) class victory in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09, joined by three co-drivers making their Rolex 24 debut: Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez and Nicholas Bouile.
“It’s great to be back with the same team with new co-drivers,” Kimber-Smith said. “My three team mates are all rookies, but during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 they didn’t do anything wrong and we were fairly quick. This is similar to the same boat we had with the three drivers we were with last year,” when he was joined by Mike Guasch, Andrew Palmer and Andrew Novich.
Practice for the Rolex 24 At Daytona begins on Friday morning, with qualifying taking the green flag in the afternoon. The weekend also includes the BMW Performance 200, the opening round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge on Saturday afternoon.