DAYTONA BEACH, Florida: The Rolex 24 At Daytona, scheduled at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday and Sunday (Sunday and Monday in Manila), has morphed from a long sports-car race into an international celebration of speed.
Drivers from various forms of racing, from different corners of the globe, are heading to the Speedway to compete in this all-star event over the 3.56-mile |(5.7-kilometer) road course.
By the time the checkered flag falls on Sunday, 17 different car manufacturers will have competed in events at Daytona.
Because of the wide interest, there has been a run of different overall race winners in recent years.
Chip Ganassi Racing, which has won the Rolex 24 overall six times since 2006, has moved out of the Prototype class and into GT Le Mans with four Ford GT racers.
The Prototype class is expected to rule the overall leaderboard. The last time a GT car won the Rolex 24 was in 2003 as Grand Am Racing was transitioning from World Sports Cars to Daytona Prototypes.
The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship officials expect a dozen Prototypes, including the defending champion No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM team.
The team, featuring Scott Sharp, now races a Nissan DPi. Last year they wheeled a Ligier JS P2-Honda.
It was that victory that opened the era of the next generation Prototype. Here’s a look at different teams, engines, chassis and drivers who have won the Rolex 24 in recent years.
Car owner Chip Ganassi has enjoyed the magic touch over the last 10 years of Rolex 24 At Daytona competition. His teams have won the big race five times in the old Daytona Prototype.
Actually, Ganassi cars won America’s premier road race three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008 in a Riley chassis powered by a Lexus engine.
There were different drivers in all three of those wins, although Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett were teammates in the 2007-08 victories.
Ganassi won again in 2011 with a Riley powered by BMW and returned to win with the same package in 2013.
Ganassi Racing has moved from Prototypes to the GT Le Mans class this season and has only a slim chance for an overall win.
Not impossible, but improbable.
TOP CHASSIS BUILDERS
Riley Technologies, featuring the father-son team of Bob and Bill Riley, have had an impressive run in the Rolex 24.
A Riley chassis, used by a variety of race teams, won the race from 2005 through 2013 and added another in 2015.
The Riley run was powered by different engines from Pontiac, Lexus, Porsche, BMW and Ford.
The Riley family’s streak was busted when the Action Express Coyote-Corvette DP captured top honors in the 2014 Rolex 24.
Last year, the No. 2 Ligier JS P2-Honda, which was classified as a Le Mans P2 car in 2016, beat the favored Daytona Prototypes at Daytona.
The Riley clan has shifted their attention to the Mercedes program competing in the GT Daytona class this year.
Since 2012 four different teams have won the Rolex 24. The spoiler was Ganassi Racing, which had wins in 2013 and 2015.
Michael Shank Racing captured the big prize in something of an upset in 2012 in a Daytona Prototype touting Ford’s new EcoBoost engine.
Action Express, which is owned by local businessman Bob Johnson, stood at the top of the podium in 2014.
The Tequila Patron ESM Ligier topped the charts last year thanks in part to heavy foot of Pipo Derani, who emerged from last season’s Roar test with the fastest speed.
The list of winning drivers is all over the chart, as noted by Speedway president Chip Wile.
“To have folks from so many different forms of racing coming here to be part of the Rolex 24 really speaks to what this event means to the world of sports car racing,” Wile said.
After Ganassi Racing’s “Star Car,” featuring all IndyCar and NASCAR drivers, won in 2015, a group of relative unknowns captured the trophy last season.
The Ganassi win was achieved by Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray and NASCAR newcomer Kyle Larson.
Another NASCAR driver of note, AJ Allmendinger, was part of the 2012 Shank Racing victory.
The only driver from the NASCAR ranks entered in this week’s 24 is four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who retired as a stock-car driver in 2015.
Scott Sharp led the winning effort in 2016, but his co-drivers were relatively unknowns, including Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani and Ed Brown, who owns a stake in the race team.
Pruett rode the Ganassi winning wave to four of his record-tying five overall Rolex 24 victories.