DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Two hours into a round-the-clock race, Roger Penske had yet to sit down.
Penske, who holds the record with 17 Indianapolis 500 victories, is attempting to stay awake throughout the entire Rolex 24 at Daytona, the endurance sports car race that started Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
Staying awake for 24 hours isn’t anything new for Penske, who will turn 82 next month. He accomplished the feat last year.
“He’s been standing since the start of the race,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, who had one of two Team Penske Acuras cars in the lead in the opening hours of the race. “He’s not even sitting down. Last year he did the entire 24 hours without sleep. He did not sleep. It’s pretty impressive, actually. It’s unbelievable. He doesn’t even want to sit down at the moment. He’s just standing there. He’s crazy!”
Penske’s other opening-stint driver, Ricky Taylor, also marveled at the boss’ endurance.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so cool,” said Taylor, 29. “I could never do that.”
Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner and 1999 CART champion, drove the No. 6 Acura DPi past pole winner Oliver Jarvis during the first hour of the race. Montoya stayed in the car for the first two hours before being replaced by teammate Dane Cameron. Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion, is the car's third driver.
Montoya indicated all was well with the car during the opening laps.
“It’s pretty reasonable, to be honest,” Montoya said. “The car seems to have a good balance. They (the Mazda Team Joest cars) seem to go longer on fuel than us, so we’re trying to save some fuel and make sure we can stay on par with them at the moment.”
Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves took over the No. 7 Acura DPi from Taylor, who kept the car comfortably on the lead lap in the first 90 minutes of the race.
“The car is plenty fast at the moment,” Taylor said. “The Mazdas seem like the biggest challenger. We’re just kind of riding there with Montoya and trying not to take any risks.”
Two other drivers with INDYCAR connections, Tristan Vautier and Kyle Kaiser, were among the top five early in the race. Joey Hand had the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that he shares with Dirk Mueller and four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais in the lead in the GTLM class.
The possibility of rain and an uncertain forecast hung over the remaining hours of the race, but Taylor said Team Penske didn’t have plans for major changes to counteract wet weather.
“There’s not a lot we can do right now,” Taylor said. “Obviously, we could do a nose change and a wing change, but I think the cars do well in the wet. … Right now, the car is going to be exactly the way it is now (if it rains).”
As the race neared the five-hour mark at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, both Team Penske Acuras remained on the lead lap, with Pagenaud in third in the No. 6 and Alexander Rossi, the Andretti Autosport driver in the NTT IndyCar Series making his Acura debut, in fourth place.
Sebastian Saavedra, a veteran of 65 NTT IndyCar Series starts, led in the LMP2 class. The AIM Vasser Sullivan No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 co-owned by INDYCAR team owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan led in GT Daytona with Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, behind the wheel.