DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Late last week, Tony Kanaan was congratulated for his strong close to the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, including a victory in the finale at Auto Club Speedway.
“We have to start the season stronger,” said the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner “to challenge for the championship.”
Victory in the 53rd Rolex 24 At Daytona will be quite the preseason confidence boost to Kanaan and teammate Scott Dixon, who co-drove the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car with Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.
INDYCAR drivers continued their domination in the season-opening sports car endurance race. A Verizon IndyCar Series competitor has co-driven the winning overall entry the past five years. In the past decade, other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers who have co-driven to the victory include Sebastien Bourdais (2014), Charlie Kimball (2013), Justin Wilson (2012), Graham Rahal (2011), Juan Pablo Montoya (2013, 2008, 2007), Buddy Rice (2009), Dario Franchitti (2008) and Dan Wheldon (2006).
INDYCAR’s influence extended to a class victory in GT Le Mans (Ryan Briscoe in the No. 3 Corvette Racing entry), second place in Prototype Challenge (Martin Plowman in the No. 16 BAR1 Motorsports) and third place in GTLM (Simon Pagenaud in the No. 4 Corvette Racing car).
Rahal co-drove the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry to fourth place in GLLM, while Townsend Bell, a class-winning driver in 2014, co-drove to sixth place in GT Daytona in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa car.
Following a full-course caution with 19 minutes left, Dixon maintained a sizable advantage over Bourdais in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Prototype and won by 1.333 seconds on the 3.56-mile, 11-turn Daytona International Speedway road course. Dixon, earning his second overall victory, drove the final 3 hours, 32 minutes and about seven hours overall.
“It’s such a team effort here,” said Dixon, who helped deliver the sixth victory in the race for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. “The whole last part of the race is so horrible because you’re thinking something is going to go wrong, is going to break. The car was very consistent and I think we had good speed, but everybody pulled their weight. Everybody kept the car in one piece. You have to look after the car so you have the speed at the end to try and compete for the win.
"I can't emphasize how big of a team effort it is. It's not one person that ever wins this race. It's everybody involved, and this weekend everybody on the 02 team did their best job, and obviously it was enough to get the victory."
Kanaan joins Dixon, Franchitti, Montoya, Wheldon, Mark Donohue, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Rice, A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal as Indy car drivers to win the Rolex 24 and Indianapolis 500. Mario Andretti co-drove to the victory in the 6-hour race in 1972.
“I like watches; I’ve always bought them and I got one for free today,” said Kanaan, who dedicated the victory to his wife, Lauren, and their infant son. "I’ve done it once with Rubens (Barrichello) in the GT class, but to win overall I had to be in a good team. Two years ago when I signed with Chip (Ganassi) I knew I had an opportunity. That was the first question I asked, ‘Can I do the 24 Hours?’ This team, we have a lot of fun and we support each other. We felt a lot pressure to win, but we knew we could do it. It means a lot. It’s one more to the resume for sure.”
The diverse 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule commences March 8 with the Brasilia Indy 300 in the capital city of Brazil and will include aerodynamic bodywork kits introduced by Chevrolet and Honda at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27-29.
Results of other INDYCAR drivers (class in parentheses):
*Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion – No. 7 Starworks Motorsport (Prototype). Out after 426 laps with engine issue. Finished 39th overall.
*Charlie Kimball, Verizon IndyCar Series race winner, and Sage Karam, 2013 Indy Lights champion – No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (Prototype). Among contenders until about two hours left when clutch issue sent it to garage for extended period. Finished 25th overall.
*Jack Hawksworth, A.J. Foyt Racing driver – No. 11 RSR Racing (Prototype Challenge). Out after 535 laps. Finished 36th overall.
*James Hinchcliffe, multiple Verizon IndyCar Series race winner – No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda (Prototype). Out after 198 laps with what the team termed as comprehensive oil pump failure. Finished 49th overall.
*Shelby Blackstock, Andretti Autosport Indy Lights driver – No. 61 BAR1 Motorsports (Prototype Challenge). Out after 361 laps. Finished 42nd overall.
*Gabby Chaves, 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion – No. 0 DeltaWing (Prototype). Out after 42 laps with clutch issue. Finished 53rd.
*James Davison, 2014 Indianapolis 500 competitor and Indy Lights race winner – No. 007 Aston Martin (GT Daytona). Finished 31st overall.