The racing offseason isn't very long, but that doesn't mean that by the turn of the year race fans aren't champing at the bit to see cars on the track. Lucky for us, the wait is over with the first major event of the year: the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. This year's edition is extra special, as its the 50th running of America's premier endurance race. While the NASCAR stars are mostly sitting this year out, there are still plenty of recognizable names peppered in with the sports car aces in this field.
We begin in the Daytona Prototype class, which consists of cars like the picture you see here and are either BMWs, Fords, or Corvettes. The drama here has already started. The defending champion car, owned by Chip Ganassi Racing and driven by the same four guys as last year (Scott Pruett, Joey Hand, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal), blew an engine in qualifying and will start in the back of the field. It's an early disadvantage, but of course they have 24 hours to make it up. Ganassi's second car is the same "superteam" as last year, consisting of his NASCAR drivers, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, and his primary IndyCar drivers, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Ganassi is the dominant team in Grand-Am, and thus are at the top of everybody's list of favorites.
Other notable racing figures in the DP class are AJ Allmendinger (driving for Michael Shank, who he's collaborating with on a new IndyCar team), Michael McDowell (NASCAR), Max Papis (in the race he got his "Mad Max" nickname), Paul Tracy (the ageless IndyCar vet), Ryan Briscoe (IndyCar), Ryan Hunter-Reay (IndyCar) and Colin Braun (ex-NASCAR). On the pole for the DP class though is the #8 Starworks Motorsports machine, one of the Fords. Its driver lineup includes two very accomplished sports car drivers Lucas Luhr and Allan McNish, as well as ex-Champ Car driver Ryan Dalziel, who put the car on the pole.
As well as the Prototypes, we have the GT class. The majority of the cars in this class are Porsche GT3's and Ferrari 458's, but there are also Mazda RX-8's, Audi R8's, Corvettes, BMW M3's, and even a Mustang and a Dodge Viper. The polesitters (albeit behind all of the Prototypes) for GT are the #59 Brumos Racing entry, driving a Porsche. Their driver lineup includes legendary Hurley Haywood, who has won this race a record five times (although Pruett can tie him with a win).
Among the notables in the GT class are Michael Waltrip, who is teaming with Travis Pastrana, among others. New GoDaddy IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is in this class, driving with Marino Franchitti,Dario's brother. An Earnhardt drives in this class, Jeffrey (I'll leave it to Debi to tell you where he fits in the family). Wild man Boris Said will be part of the #94 team, and former F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella drives for the #62 Risi Competizione team, expected to be a favorite. Finally, it one of the cooler storylines, John Andretti will be racing in the #36 Yellow Dragon machine. One of his teammates? His 19 year old son Jarett. Jarett's been racing midgets as his career starts up, so it will be interesting to see how he handles much bigger cars.
So to continue from Eric's info, for those NASCAR fans watching to get their racing "fix" in, a little more information for you. Firstly, Jeffrey Earnhardt is Kerry Earnhardt's son. Kerry hasn't had the kind of success in racing that he dad did, or even that his brother, Dale Jr. has had. Jeffrey, however, drives in the Camping World Truck Series for Rick Ware Racing. He started his career with DEI, but when they merged with Ganassi, Jeffrey was out of a ride. Odd how the Earnhardt company that Dale Sr. started for his children has not a single Earnhardt on the payroll. (Oh wait there is Teresa).
Another NASCAR tidbit to add, the JC France that Eric mentioned above is the one and the same France who was arrested in 2009, high as a kite, street racing. At that time he told officers that he was a "France" and could do whatever the hell he wanted. Let's hope he has his life under control enough to race safely over the next 24 hours.
I am interested to see how Michael Waltrip will do in this race. He has retired from racing, only returning from time to time in a restrictor plate race. However, this race at Daytona has very little to do with restrictor plate racing. It's an endurance race. Michael hasn't been awful on road courses in the past, but this will be completely different from anything he has done before. His co-owner, Rob Kauffman, is one of the other drivers in the car. Kauffman has a strong interest in cars and has an automotive restoration company in addition to his interests in MWR, however, his driving abilities are virtually unknown.
I don't think anyone will have much to challenge Ganassi. Scott Dixon has said that Dan Wheldon is very much on his mind this weekend. Dan was killed in a crash October 16th, but was part of the original Ganassi winning team in 2006. They will be racing for their friend and teammate. Yes, team one starts from the back, but with such a talented crew of drivers, getting up to the front shouldn't be a problem for them. The race, barring engine problems, will undoubtedly come down to a challenge between teams 1 and 2. I'm sure Eric will chime in with his predictions once he makes his way back into the thread.
Green flag is 3:30 today. The Rolex 24 has it all from action to strategy to the spectacle that is night racing. Coverage will be on SPEED from 2:30-11:00 on Saturday and 9 am-4 pm on Sunday, with streaming on SPEED.com throughout. Click here for the entry list, and here for the timing and scoring. Q it up with Debi and me throughout the 24 hours, or as much of it as we can stay awake for.
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