NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta will share the same sports car this weekend in the 60th Rolex 24 At Daytona, and it’s difficult to determine which of them is more excited about it.
The former Indy Lights teammates at Andretti Autosport – and briefly INDYCAR teammates at Harding Racing – said they expect this experience in DragonSpeed USA’s No. 81 Oreca LMP2 07 to take on a new meaning now that they compete for race wins and championships in open-wheel racing’s top category.
“I think it’s going to be fun because we’re not actually competing against other,” Herta said. “When we were (Indy Lights) teammates, we were 1-2 in the championship, so we were kind of competing against each other pretty highly. So, this will be cool.”
Co-driving the DragonSpeed USA entry is NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Devlin DeFrancesco of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport and DragonSpeed team regular Eric Lux.
O’Ward, 22, and Herta, 21, certainly have quite the history, beginning as rivals in kart races. In 2018, they were first paired by Michael Andretti, and they combined to win 13 of the 17 Indy Lights races with 12 poles. O’Ward won the championship with nine wins and nine poles while Herta, slowed by a midseason broken thumb, finished second in the standings with four and three, respectively.
Since joining INDYCAR, they have had remarkably similar success. Herta, who has made 10 more starts, has won more races – six to O’Ward’s two – with three more poles. But O’Ward has finished higher in the standings each of the past two years. Last season, O’Ward was third, Herta fifth.
O’Ward views this venture as “joining forces” with the driver he calls his biggest rival.
“I think we have a shot at (victory), man,” he said of the 10-car LMP2 class, which DragonSpeed USA won in 2019 and 2020. “I’m really excited, and I know he is, too.
“We’ve always been going against each other, and I know I make his life harder, and he makes my life harder. But this is going to be fun in a cool environment, and we’re actually going to be able to cheer for each other.”
O’Ward led the first LMP2 practice Friday afternoon in wet conditions at Daytona International Speedway. His time, set in drying conditions at the end of the session, was the quickest overall – a rarity against the more powerful Daytona Prototype International (DPi) cars.
Both drivers have enjoyed success at Daytona. In 2017, O’Ward won the Prototype Challenge class in his Rolex 24 debut. In 2019, Herta was part of the winning GTLM entry with BMW.
Herta hopes to learn something from O’Ward.
“I want to see how his driving style might have changed since 2018,” he said. “I know he likes his car really loose and stuff, so it’ll be interesting to kind of find a balance between us for setup for the full 24 hours.”
Overall, this Rolex 24 has 61 entries, the most for the event since 2014. Seven INDYCAR drivers are part of the seven-car DPi lineup. Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson are driving for Cadillac Racing while Jimmie Johnson again drives for Ally Cadillac. For Acura, Alexander Rossi is part of the Konica Minolta entry while Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud drive for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian.
Like O’Ward and Herta, Rinus VeeKay is in the LMP2 class, driving for Racing Team Nederland. Reigning Indy Lights champion and INDYCAR rookie Kyle Kirkwood has returned to the Vasser-Sullivan Lexus in the GTD Pro Class. Several Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires drivers are also in the field.
Live coverage of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship’s season-opening race begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC.
Weekend broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):
1:30-2:30 p.m.: NBC
2:30-4 p.m.: Peacock
4-7 p.m.: USA Network
7-10 p.m.: Peacock
10 p.m.-3 a.m.: USA Network
3-6 a.m.: Peacock
6 a.m.-noon: USA Network
Noon-2 p.m.: NBC