DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The first day of on-track activity at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona was a busy one, with practice sessions for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, in addition to practice and qualifying for the IMSA Prototype Challenge. The event continues through Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
On the racetrack, Oliver Jarvis posted the fastest time in WeatherTech Championship practice in the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) entry. Jarvis’ best lap of 1 minute, 35.989 seconds was quicker than the existing WeatherTech Championship track record of 1:36.083 set by Renger van der Zande in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R in Rolex 24 At Daytona qualifying last year.
While Jarvis’ quick lap in the DPi class came in the first of two WeatherTech Championship sessions, the fastest times in the other three classes all were posted in the second practice, despite heavy rains that abbreviated the session. Gabriel Autry led LMP2 with a lap of 1:39.575 in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA, with Davide Rigon leading the way in GT Le Mans (GTLM) in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at 1:44.718. Jeroen Bleekemolen led GT Daytona (GTD) at 1:46.452 in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports GT3.
-Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi is driving in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona this year in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. In addition to it being his first WeatherTech Championship experience, it will be his first race in North America since losing both legs in a Champ Car crash at EuroSpeedway Lausitz (Germany) in 2001.
“In life, it’s a question of opportunities, and I had this one, which is certainly one of the opportunities I would choose,” he said. “The Rolex 24 At Daytona has always been, the 24-hour race for me in my eyes. Being European, people would probably be used to believe that I would want to go to Le Mans, but in reality, I grew up as a race car driver here in America. I’ve always heard about this race many stories from many colleagues who were involved at some points with this great event. I always dreamed to be here. I’ve been around a long, long time and it’s almost off time right now, but luckily, before the last curtain came down, here I am involved with BMW with a works machine for RLL, and I’m very, very excited to be here.”
-Double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso is back for his second consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona, this time as part of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R driver lineup with co-drivers Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi. In a news conference Friday afternoon with his teammates, Alonso introduced the possibility of more IMSA action in the future.
“It’s definitely a possibility that I can race in different venues in IMSA in the future, and why not maybe do the full championship one day?” Alonso said. “Not in the short term, let’s say, more medium- or long-term.”
-Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, is participating in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona since 2014 as part of the driver lineup for the No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi with co-drivers Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves. Rossi’s last Daytona run came in the DeltaWing with co-drivers Katherine Legge, Andy Meyrick and Gabby Chaves. They finished 16th in the Prototype class.
“Being able to race the 24 Hours of Daytona with Acura Team Penske is a pretty great opportunity,” Rossi said. “Obviously, the pedigree of Team Penske and their competitiveness really across all series in motorsports gives us a great opportunity and a great platform to start from, but then as well, being able to continue my relationship with Acura and stay within the Honda family outside of the IndyCar Series is a pretty cool thing for me and to be able to continue that relationship is great for the future. I’m excited to get started here. I don’t know a whole lot of what to expect because the last time I was here was almost five years ago. This have definitely changed for me since then.”
-Scott Pruett, the winningest driver in IMSA history with 60-career victories and a five-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, was introduced today as the Grand Marshal for the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27. Pruett shares the overall victory record at the Rolex 24 with Hurley Haywood and is the event’s all-time leader with 10 class wins. He retired from driving after last year’s Rolex 24.
“It’s impossible for me to sum up, in just a few words, how honored I am to be chosen as Grand Marshal for the 57th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona,” Pruett said. “This track is truly special to me for so many reasons. To be the Grand Marshal in itself is wonderful and to be it while ushering in the 50th Anniversary of IMSA makes it all the more special. It’s going to be an emotional weekend and start of the race for me personally, as I’m sure I will miss suiting up and taking the wheel.”