For Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal, the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car race this weekend offers a stark contrast of “out with the old, in with the new.”
Dixon, the four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, and Tony Kanaan, his INDYCAR teammate with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, enter the race on Daytona International Speedway’s road course as the defending overall champions of the prestigious endurance event along with their Ganassi NASCAR brethren, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray. The talented quartet will again pilot the No. 02 Ford Ecoboost/Riley Prototype in its swansong event as the Ganassi sports car program shifts focus to the ballyhooed Ford GT.
While Dixon and Kanaan are bringing down the competition curtain with their car, Rahal will be part of the unveiling for BMW’s M6 in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans competition with the BMW Team RLL that his father co-owns.
Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal are among nine current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers scheduled to compete in the 24-hour marathon race that kicks off the North American sports car season. Others slated to drive include Mikhail Aleshin, Sebastien Bourdais, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Spencer Pigot.
In all, the Rolex 24 roster boasts 24 drivers who have competed in an Indy car event, including 11 who have won an Indy car race. The past five Rolex 24 overall winning teams have included at least one Verizon IndyCar Series regular.
Dixon, fifth on the all-time Indy car wins list with 38, has driven Indy cars for Ganassi since 2002 and been a part of the Daytona team nearly as long.
“I think I’ve done every one of the Rolex 24-hour races since Chip started the program back in 2004,” Dixon said. “For the team, it’s become a tradition in January for us and it’s a great way to start the racing season in Daytona. I really enjoy driving the Prototype cars and the 24-hour races are something totally different from what we usually do in INDYCAR. This is the last time we’ll be running the Prototype, so we obviously want to end on a high note.”
Kanaan, Dixon’s teammate, is widely regarded in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock as one of the most fit drivers. The 2004 series and 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion has competed in numerous Ironman and triathlon competitions, and trains regularly and rigorously. But the Brazilian, who turned 41 on New Year’s Eve, said the proper mindset is just as important for the Rolex 24.
“This race is more about preparing mentally than physically,” Kanaan said. “We obviously aren’t in the car for 24 hours straight, but you have to stay focused for a longer period of time than a normal Indy car race. It’s also important that you make yourself shut off and get some rest when you get the chance, so you can be focused and on top of your game when you get back in the car.”
Rahal, meanwhile, will team with Lucas Luhr (who drove in one Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2013), John Edwards and Kuno Wittmer in the debut for the No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6. The car number is significant since BMW celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It was also 40 years ago that BMW collected its first overall Rolex 24 win.
The twin-turbo, V-8 M6 posted the fastest lap in its class during the Roar Before the 24 test session on Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course Jan. 8-10.
“I am thrilled to be joining BMW for a third year in a row and now in the new M6,” Rahal said. “I think they have once again assembled a great team and, with the top-notch mechanics and team at RLL behind us, I think we should have a great shot to pick up my second Daytona 24-hour win in a BMW-powered machine.”
Practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24 will be held Jan. 28, with a final practice session the following day. The 24-hour race begins at 2:40 p.m. ET Jan. 30. The finish on Jan. 31 comes six weeks to the day before the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13.