On Friday, Jan. 3, under cloudy skies and in sub 40 degree temperatures, the engines roared to life in the pursuit of a coveted Rolex watch as the Roar Before The Rolex 24 test kicked off at Daytona International Speedway. The crowded field of more than 100 cars between the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental SportsCar Challenge began an intense three-day test on the twists and turns of the 3.56-mile road course, all in preparation for the race on Jan. 25-26.
Florida weather, especially in January, can be highly unpredictable. Thursday saw record high temperatures all across the state, while Friday brought some of the coldest temperatures in more than a year.
“I don’t know where this weather came from," stated Ryan Dalziel, co-driver of the No. 1 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b. "I live in Orlando, and over the past month it has been up and down and everyday has been a bit different. It is also expected at Daytona, that at some point during the week, we have one of these cold days. It is good to have a mixture of everything here at the Roar. We expect warmer conditions in the next couple of days. I think our car will be a bit better in our own package as it gets hotter, but there is also the chance that everyone else will too.”
The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be the inaugural event for the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the result of the merger of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
The Extreme Speed Motorsports team was the fifth quickest prototype team on opening day at the speedway. The team, which fields two Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b P2 machines, has high hopes for a good start to the season.
"It looks like all the P2 cars made a little bit of a step-up today," Dalziel continued. "But there’s still some work to be done. Unfortunately, so much at Daytona is top speed and that’s not going to be the strength of a P2 car. We understand what the situation is and we’re just trying to get as close as we can. If we can make the cars race well, that’s what everybody wants to see.”
In between the on-track activities, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, the defending champion of the Rolex 24, announced their driver lineup for this year's race. Between 2006-13, Ganassi has won the twice-around-the-clock challenge five times and finished second twice.
Behind the wheel of the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley will five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Jamie McMurray and Sage Karam. In the No. 02 car will be Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Marino Franchitti.
“This race is always exciting for me," stated team owner Chip Ganassi. "Because it is a 24-hour race, there are so many factors that go into having success. You need the drivers, the people, the equipment and the partners - but most importantly they all have to act as one team and that is where I think our strength lies. And having a little bit of luck on your side never hurts. When you make it to victory lane in this race, you know that you have accomplished something really special. In addition, it is not often when we can bring such a diverse group of drivers from NASCAR, INDYCAR and IMSA together to compete in one race. It is a great kick off to our racing season.”
Last year’s Rolex 24 was a special win for Pruett, who with his fifth overall win tied Hurley Haywood on the all-time victory list.
“It’s just an incredible run of being here and coming here and seeing all these great drivers and great cars and that excitement that builds over the winter and then everybody getting here,” Pruett said. “It’s even more so amplified with the fact that, not just all the newness within the Ganassi organization, but all the newness within the new unified series and the different cars and drivers. Everybody is not sure what to expect and happen. Stay tuned, it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be exciting.”
Among the new faces to the Ganassi program include Larson, who will compete for top rookie honors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as well as 2013 Indy Lights champion Karam and sports car veteran and 2013 LMP2 ALMS champion Franchitti.
“When you get the call from Chip and the Ganassi organization you’re like, where do you need me and when?,” Franchitti said. “Whether it’s Daytona 500, Indy 500, or Daytona 24 Hours, Chip and his whole organization are built to win those big races. And I want to win this one really badly and I’m just delighted to be a part of this team.”
McMurray, the 2010 Daytona 500 champion, says the Rolex 24 is on top of his wish list of races that he wants to win.
“I come down here because it’s fun,” McMurray said. “I’ve got to win the biggest NASCAR race, the Daytona 500, and I’ve won the Brickyard 400, and to me this is the one race that I would like to win more than anything right now. This is a huge race.”
The Roar Before The Rolex 24 continues on Saturday and Sunday. Among the activities scheduled in the Sprint FANZONE on Saturday include lunch hour fan forums, safety technology 101 inside Gatorade Victory Lane, guided garage tours, tech talk 101, pit demonstration and a photo opportunity.
Roar Before The Rolex 24 tickets are $15 per day and 12 and under are free with a paid adult. 2014 Rolex 24 ticket holders receive FREE admission to the Roar Before The Rolex 24.
In addition, a section of the Oldfield Grandstands will be open free to the public with access available through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.
Fans can follow sports cars online, go on Twitter at TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge. Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long.
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