Team Owners and Racing Icons See Great Things Ahead for Sports Car Racing
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The fever-pitch anticipation for the 2023 Rolex 24 At Daytona has been felt throughout the motorsports world awaiting the debut of the LMDh prototypes set to race for the first time in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. That excitement reaches even to the highest levels of team ownership within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
In a news conference this morning at Daytona International Speedway, ahead of the green flag for the iconic 24-hour race, several icons of the sport expressed their eagerness for the coming-out party for this new era of sports car racing.
“History is being written starting today,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of BMW M Team RLL fielding two GTP entries.
“I think we’re on the precipice of a new renaissance here,” added Chip Ganassi, owner of his namesake team with a pair of Cadillac V-LMDh cars for the race.
“I think this is really a sendoff to really exciting times in motor racing and certainly in sports cars,” offered Roger Penske, owner of the two-car Porsche Penske Motorsport operation.
“I think the future’s really bright for sports car racing, and I think our timing is perfect to be involved,” remarked Michael Andretti, whose Andretti Autosport has joined forces with Wayne Taylor Racing for a single-car GTP effort.
Nine GTP cars from four manufacturers – Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche – are entered for the 61st running of the Rolex 24 (live coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Lamborghini will enter the fray in 2024, with other manufacturers possible to join.
In the prerace news conference, the team owners stressed the importance of IMSA, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) reaching convergence of rules allowing the hybrid-powered LMDh prototypes to compete in both the WeatherTech Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship as the key that unlocked the door to the immense interest in participation. LMDh cars will run in the same class as LMH (Le Mans Hybrid) cars in both series, though there are no LMH entries in this year’s Rolex 24.
“This seems to be a real platform for us to take sports car racing to the next level here in the United States,” said Penske, who has two Porsche 963s entered in each series, “and then to be able to compete on the international platform at Le Mans for our teams and our brands will be special. I look at competing with these folks as going to be terrific.”
Ganassi is running one Cadillac V-LMDh in each series for the full season, but both will get their first test in the Rolex 24.
“To be on the doorstep of the first race of this formula, the excitement is obvious – with the manufacturers here, with the fans here,” he said. “Everybody on both sides of the Atlantic are very, very excited about this formula, about what’s about to happen. I think we’re on the precipice of a new renaissance here thanks to the people in charge.”
Michael Shank returns as the co-owner of the overall winning team. Meyer Shank Racing will go for back-to-back wins with the new Acura ARX-06 hybrid. He feels the excitement pulsating throughout the paddock, with teams, manufacturers, fans, media and curious onlookers.
“I think it’s a credit to IMSA of putting this global package together,” Shank said. “It’s made it extremely attractive for our partners.”
Andretti may have just joined the GTP ranks, as Andretti Autosport continues its expansion into multiple racing disciplines, but he’s as optimistic as his fellow team owners.
“We’re really excited about the future of what we’re going to do with this sport,” he said. “There’s a lot of cool plans for the future. I think IMSA has done a great job with the rules, it’s exciting to see all the manufacturers, the excitement of being involved. I think the future’s really bright for sports car racing and I think our timing is perfect to be involved.”
As excited as they are, the owners also knew the gargantuan task lying ahead in surviving a 24-hour race with a new car not run under such rigorous conditions to date. Bob Johnson, owner of the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac, summed up the anxiety that’s also top of mind.
“We did a lot of testing, all we could, but there’s still a lot of things we’re not totally aware of,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to see how it goes. That’s the challenge.”
Pole-Winning GTD Mercedes Moves to Rear of Field for Start
The No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, which won the pole for the GT classes, was moved to the rear of the starting grid for changing the car chassis for the race. The original chassis was significantly damaged and driver Lucas Auer sustained lumbar fractures in a crash during practice on Thursday.
Also moved to the rear of the 61-car grid for changing starting drivers were the No. 64 TGM/TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in GTD PRO and the No. 19 Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 in GT Daytona (GTD).
Following the first hour of race coverage on NBC, the telecast moves to USA Network from 2:30-8 p.m. ET and again on USA from 10-11:59 p.m. Coverage resumes on USA from 6 a.m.-noon Sunday before returning to NBC for the dramatic conclusion from noon-2 p.m. The entire 24-hour race streams live on Peacock.