Alexander Rossi seems ready for two U.S.-based racing series to begin, one of which roars into high gear this weekend.
Earlier this week, Rossi tuned up for his day job – driving Andretti Autosport’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda – by setting quick time among nine drivers in Tuesday’s private test session at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway.
On the same day at Sebring, Rossi helped Wayne Taylor Racing prepare for this weekend’s start to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship by completing nearly two dozen laps in the team’s No. 10 Acura ARX-05 competing in the Daytona Prototype International class of the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 30-31.
IMSA teams also have gathered en masse for the traditional Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session today through Sunday on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona. Ten full- or partial-season 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are participating.
To be sure, it was an unusual testing double Tuesday at Sebring, and Rossi considered it a double success.
The sports car shakedown was particularly important as Rossi’s new team – Wayne Taylor Racing – learns the nuances of the Acura ARX-05 used by Team Penske last year. The other Team Penske entry of a year ago is being fielded this year by Meyer Shank Racing, an NTT INDYCAR SERIES regular.
Rossi is co-driving in the Rolex 24 with Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and fellow Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and all but Albuquerque were with Roger Penske’s two-car sports car team last year. That continuity has given Wayne Taylor’s team a stronger start to the season than it might not have otherwise enjoyed, 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Rossi said.
“It’s certainly helped,” said Rossi, who will compete in the four Michelin Endurance Cup rounds with Castroneves driving only in the Rolex 24. “We know the car and what it needs.”
Meyer Shank Racing has former Team Penske drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya in its Rolex 24 lineup.
Practice began today for all classes at Daytona. Action Saturday features more practice and then qualifying starting at 3 p.m. (ET) for a 100-minute race at 2:05 p.m. (ET) Sunday that sets the lineup for the twice-round-the-clock big show Jan. 30-31. It’s the first time the Rolex 24 grid will be set by a race.
Rossi is confident in the transition to Wayne Taylor Racing in part because the Sebring shakedown went smoothly.
“That’s the first hurdle to overcome with a whole new program,” Rossi said. “I have no concept for (the car’s) performance yet (laughing), but I’m sure it will be fine.”
Simon Pagenaud was the other high-profile member of Team Penske’s sports car program, but he moved to the Action Express team fielding Cadillacs. 2016 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Pagenaud is partnering with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and two-time Rolex 24 champion Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 48 Cadillac DPi. Johnson will make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut April 18 in the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
There are 50 cars competing as IMSA expands to five classes. The field includes five former Indianapolis 500 winners – Scott Dixon, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud and Rossi – plus four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais. They’re all racing in the premier DPi prototype class.
Other 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES full- or partial-season competitors racing in the Roar and the Rolex 24 include Colton Herta (GT Daytona class), Marcus Ericcson (DPi) and Rinus VeeKay (Le Mans Prototype 2 class). (See complete list below)
Schedule information and live timing for all sessions of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 are available at imsa.com. NBCSN will offer a same-day delayed telecast of the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race at 4:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday.
As for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Rossi cautioned against reading too much into the Sebring test earlier this week. Teams used 2020 engines as part of a reshaped testing program in advance of the delayed start to the season.
“But we kind of know lap times from last year,” he said. “It was (a) good (test), really important with a lot of the off-line simulation stuff we were able to validate.
“We took a pretty big step (toward) continuing the momentum we found in the second half of last year.”
Rossi finished on the podium of four of last season’s final five races, and he hopes to return to championship contention. But there is still much work to be done.
On the day following the Rolex 24, Rossi will be back with Andretti Autosport for another test at Sebring.
“Quite a busy stretch,” he said.
2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES COMPETITORS in ROAR BEFORE THE ROLEX 24
Daytona Prototype International (DPi) Class
No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac: Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson
No. 5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac: Sebastien Bourdais
No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05: Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves
No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing: Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud
No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura: Juan Pablo Montoya
Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) Class
No. 81 DragonSpeed USA Oreca: Rinus VeeKay
GT Daytona (GTD) Class
No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6: Colton Herta