Five NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers started their 2022 racing season by celebrating on the top step of the podium, earning overall or class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car endurance classic.
Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winners Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud were part of the four-driver winning team overall and in the premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class in the 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, sharing the No. 60 Acura for Meyer Shank Racing, also their team in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Young NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars and title rivals Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, along with 2022 series rookie Devlin De Francesco, combined to help the No. 81 ORECA fielded by former Indy 500 entrant DragonSpeed win the LMP2 prototype class.
SEE: Final Results
This is eighth time in the last 12 years an active NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver has driven for the winning Rolex 24 overall team, including the last three years.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves earned his second consecutive and overall Rolex 24 victory, also winning last year while driving for Wayne Taylor Racing. 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 series champion Pagenaud won the Rolex 24 for the first time. They teamed with Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist in MSR’s winning effort this year.
Two Rolex 24 wins since last January and his record-tying fourth Indy 500 win last May are milestones of a late-career renaissance for Castroneves, 46.
“When you have passion, when you love what you do, you’ve just got to keep doing it,” Castroneves said. “There is no reason for you to keep listening to noises. As long as I keep it going, I have no issues.
“I’m motivated. I’m excited. I want to achieve my dreams and keep it going, and today, another one on the bucket list.”
Castroneves drove the No. 60 MSR Acura to a 3.028-second victory over the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura driven by former Team Penske IMSA teammate Ricky Taylor. NTT INDYCAR SERIES star and 2016 Indy 500 winner Rossi was a member of the No. 10 driving lineup this year as WTR aimed for its fourth consecutive overall victory.
The twice-around-the-clock race came down to a four-car battle in the final hour between the two Acuras, the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac and the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac. -All four cars exchanged the lead in the last hour on the 3.56-mile “roval” that includes part of Daytona’s high-banked, 2.5-mile oval.
During a full-course caution for a stalled GT Daytona car, the two Cadillacs decided to pit for a splash of fuel. That left Castroneves and Taylor up front for the restart in the Acuras.
The duo pulled away at the restart. Taylor applied fierce pressure on Castroneves with about 15 minutes remaining, but Castroneves gained a slight edge with seven minutes to go as Taylor slowed after the two cars sliced through slower traffic.
Castroneves kept that edge to the finish, clinching a win for MSR on the 10th anniversary of its first and previous Rolex 24 victory.
“Ricky, I taught you a lot of things (as teammates) over three years with Acura, but I didn’t teach you all of it,” Castroneves said. “I’ve got to keep some under my sleeve. Incredible job for everyone. I never thought I would be climbing the fence in Daytona, and today I realized that dream.”
Herta earned his second career Rolex 24 class win, as he also was part of the GTLM class-winning BMW fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2019.
This win came after a ferocious late duel with the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA driven by Louis Deletraz during its final stint.
Herta led Deletraz by just .8 of a second when he made a pit stop with 63 minutes to go. Deletraz pitted soon thereafter, and Herta pulled out to a three-second lead until a caution period with 50 minutes to go.
Deletraz emerged with the lead from the pit stops under caution. After the final restart, Herta started to hunt Deletraz, catching him with 10 minutes to go.
Both cars were nose-to-tail on the backstretch entering the newly named Le Mans Chicane. Herta dove to the inside with a late-braking maneuver, with Deletraz bouncing across the grass inside the corner.
Herta then cruised to a seven-second victory over the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA that included NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner Rinus VeeKay in its four-driver lineup. Deletraz spoke with Herta after the race to express his displeasure with the decisive move that dropped the Tower Motorsport car to third at the finish, but Herta was unrepentant.
“He wasn’t really happy with the move,” Herta said. “I thought it was clean. I was alongside of him. Two inside of the Bus Stop (chicane) just don’t go, and I had the inside line. It’s unfortunate. I didn’t want the race to end for them that way. But these things happen, I guess.”