Colton Herta

Colton Herta has enjoyed the spoils of victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but taking the top spot in this year’s 61st edition of the endurance classic would be an entirely different experience.

Herta, driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, has claimed two class wins in the crown jewel event of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his debut in 2019, he helped BMW Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) achieve glory in GTLM. He followed that with a step into the LMP2 category last year and delivered a stirring drive, taking the lead with 11 minutes remaining to give DragonSpeed the win.

This weekend will mark Herta’s fifth appearance in the 24-hour race, but the California native is finally in a situation to battle for overall victory with BMW M Team RLL in the new, top-level GTP category.

“It's something that I haven't had the chance to do but have always looked at doing and see if I have a chance in the future of doing,” said Herta, 22. “Luckily, BMW is part of this GTP movement and put together a car for it. So, it's finally given me the chance to try for an overall win because as much as class wins are great, and they are extremely hard to get on their own, there's something, like a ring to it, about being the overall winner.”

In a unique series of events, Herta, a seven-time race winner in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, also finds himself in a situation of possibly pulling double duty. Although he is listed as a driver in both entries for BMW M Team RLL, he will primarily be on the outfit’s No. 24 BMW M Hybrid V8.

“Yeah, so I think the idea behind it from the BMW side seems to be that they wanted four drivers in each car,” he said. “They couldn't get that. So, I'm a little bit more of a floater, and that's just a precaution just in case somebody cramps up or isn't fit to drive at some point during the race. We always have somebody that's able to make it three drivers in one car.”

One interesting adjustment for Herta is that by jumping into the top category, there will be a difference in managing traffic due to the outright pace of GTP versus what he drove in previous years.

“It's a little bit of a different strategy,” he said. “I think it helped that I was in the BMW GT stuff for a little bit because you understand the mindset of where you want to position the car and where you don't want guys to overtake you and whatnot. So, you understand that going into the race now from the opposite side, you understand what's going through the other people's minds of where they want you to be.

“So, it does help a little bit, and there is still a little bit of an adjustment being done from my side just understanding the traffic and the best way to go about it. And that'll probably continue all the way through the race.”

While this weekend’s focus is squarely on going twice around the clock and coming out on top, the Rolex 24 is a welcome way to end the offseason and prepare for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test next Thursday and Friday, Feb. 2-3, at The Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California.

“Even though it's a very different car to drive, it still adjusts you to the speed of driving a race car and gets you back into the flow of things,” Herta said. “Although they're different driving styles, you're still using the brake and the throttle similarly enough that it gets you in tune. So, it is a great way to knock off the rust. Obviously, we talk about the offseason being quite long in INDYCAR, so something like this helps a bunch.”

The 61st Running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona will feature a field of 61 cars across five classes. Driver lineups will include 10 full-time current drivers from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, including defending overall race winners Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. There also will be six drivers representing INDY NXT by Firestone.

The green flag for the Rolex 24 will wave at 1:40 p.m. ET Saturday (starting on NBC; streaming flag to flag on Peacock).

Full-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers racing in Rolex 24 At Daytona:

Helio Castroneves: GTP, No. 60 Acura ARX-06, Meyer Shank Racing

Devlin DeFrancesco: LMP2, No. 51 Oreca, Rick Ware Racing

Scott Dixon: GTP, No. 1 Cadillac, Chip Ganassi Racing

Romain Grosjean: GTD Pro, No. 63 Huracán GT3 EVO2, Iron Lynx Racing

Colton Herta: GTP, BMW, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Kyle Kirkwood: GTD, No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3, Vasser Sullivan

Scott McLaughlin: LMP2, No. 8 Oreca, Tower Motorsports

Josef Newgarden: LMP2, No. 8 Oreca, Tower Motorsports

Simon Pagenaud: GTP, No. 60 Acura ARX-06, Meyer Shank Racing

Rinus VeeKay: LMP2, No. 11 Oreca, TDS Racing

Full-time INDY NXT by Firestone drivers racing in Rolex 24 At Daytona:

Danial Frost: LMP3, No. 43 Ligier, MRS GT-Racing

Rasmus Lindh: LMP3, No. 36 Ligier, Andretti Autosport

Josh Pierson: LMP2, No. 35 Oreca, TDS Racing

Christian Rasmussen: LMP2, No. 18 Oreca, Era Motorsport

Nolan Siegel: LMP3, No. 33 Ligier, Sean Creech Motorsport

Kyffin Simpson: LMP2, No. 8 Oreca, Tower Motorsports