DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Sebastien Bourdais has a thing about the Rolex 24 At Daytona. It’s the traditional motorsports season opener, it draws an international field from a variety of disciplines and its place on the calendar helps keep him in racing shape.
And, by the way, he’s got two Rolex watches because of it.
Bourdais is among six current full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drivers in the field at Daytona International Speedway, with practice and qualifying today. The green flag flies for the 24-hour endurance sports car race at 2:40 p.m. ET Saturday (FOX).
Another 19 drivers in the field for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener have made at least one Indy car start, including multiple Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as 2017 Indy 500 rookie of the year and two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso.
The extended crossover of drivers from other disciplines is one of the reasons Bourdais and other INDYCAR veterans are attracted to the Rolex.
“It keeps you in the saddle,” said Bourdais, who will compete in the race for the 11th time. “I think it’s always helped me. It’s a bit more relevant to INDYCAR if you’re in the Prototype class, but the cornering speeds in GT cars is faster in some places. I’ve always enjoyed it. I like to mix it up and do something different. Plus, everybody wants a Rolex.”
Class winners of the race receive Rolex watches. Bourdais, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, will attempt to win a third one when he returns to the No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Muller; the trio teamed to win the GT Le Mans class at least year’s race. In 2014, Bourdais joined Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa to claim the overall victory in the Action Express Racing Coyote Corvette Daytona Prototype.
Bourdais says the difficulties of the Rolex 24 fall with the teams, not necessarily the drivers.
“You’re getting ready for the biggest race of the season, a 24-hour race, fully staffed, new equipment and new people – yes, it’s a big challenge,” Bourdais said. “For the teams, it’s hard. For the drivers, it’s kind of nice. You get an early jump start on your season. But boy, for the teams, it’s brutal. Really brutal.”
The race also turns rivals into teammates. Graham Rahal and Castroneves will join forces in Roger Penske’s return to sports car racing when they team with Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi in the Prototype class. Rahal drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, while Castroneves just completed an 18-year full-time run with Team Penske in Indy cars. The three-time Indy 500 winner will drive for his long-time boss in this year’s 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil plus the INDYCAR Grand Prix that precedes it in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’ve had a lot of fun together,” Rahal said of Castroneves. “I think everybody has bonded well together. We’re all on the same page. Our team is going to be pretty good across the board, as you would expect.”
Team Penske’s other entry will be shared by Montoya, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Simon Pagenaud and Dane Cameron. Other Verizon IndyCar Series full-timers in the field are Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi), Spencer Pigot (No. 55 Mazda Team Joest DPi) and Scott Dixon (No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT in GT Le Mans). In addition, Pato O’Ward, who was on the winning Prototype Challenge team at last year’s Rolex and will drive for Andretti Autosport this year in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, will be in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA LMP2 in the Prototype division.