| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
DAYTONA BEACH — It’s time to clock in.
The 59th running of the Rolex 24 — the annual twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona International Speedway — is set for 3:40 p.m. Saturday, and will feature a star-studded cast of drivers from all corners of motorsports, including NASCAR, IndyCar, and IMSA.
This edition of the race will look different for fans because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There will be limits on attendance. Social distancing guidelines will also be in place and areas normally popular with visitors, such as the garage area, will be closed.
For those in the race, however, the anticipation is business as usual.
“I’m excited, but with that comes some anxiety as well,” said seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. “I’m jumping into the deep end of the pool with this weekend’s race and the stacked field, but with the competitor in me … I want to be in the mix.”
Johnson, just months removed from his NASCAR retirement, will pilot the No. 48 Ally Racing Cadillac DPi this weekend — his eighth Rolex 24 and first since 2011. Chase Elliott, Johnson’s former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and defending Cup champion, will help drive the No. 31 Whelen Engineering machine in his first Rolex 24.
That car will lead the field of 49 to green on Saturday by virtue of winning last weekend’s inaugural Motul Pole Award 100 — a 100-minute qualifying race that put a bow on the three-day Roar testing weekend.
“This is a race that I’ve always dreamed of starting out front,” said Felipe Nasr, who will drive the pole-winning car along with Elliott, Pipo Derani and Mike Conway. “It’s amazing.”
The No. 31 Cadillac will be one of seven cars in a loaded Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class that includes the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry. That team, which has switched to Acura this season, will be looking to win three straight 24s for the first time since Chip Ganassi Racing did it from 2006-08.
“Wayne Taylor’s history at the 24 hours of Daytona, especially the past few years, it speaks for itself,” said 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi, who will co-drive the car along with fellow Indy winner Helio Castroneves, Wayne Taylor’s son, Ricky Taylor, and Felipe Albuquerque.
“I would put my team against anybody,” added the 64-year-old Wayne, who also won the Rolex 24 twice as a driver (1996 and 2005).
Elsewhere, there are 10 entries in the LMP2 class, seven in the new LMP3 class, six in GTLM and 19 in GTD.
A pair of Corvettes will lead the GTLM field to green after a strong showing in Sunday’s qualifier, while a local DeLand-based team, Muehlner Motorsports, will start out front in the LMP3 class.
“We want to be back up there and get a watch,” said Antonio Garcia, one of the driver’s of the No. 3 Corvette that will start second this weekend. While Corvette hasn’t won a Rolex since 2016, Garcia and co-driver Jordan Taylor did win at Daytona last July when IMSA resumed its coronavirus-delayed season.
“You never know what’s going to happen and how the car will behave,” Garcia added. “I think we did all we could to be as prepared as possible.”
If the car isn’t quite tuned up, there’s still time to fix it before Saturday’s 3:40 p.m. clock-in.
There will be a pair of WeatherTech Championship practices at the track Thursday and Friday, with a slew of smaller races sandwiched in-between.
The Mazda MX-5 Cup, which partnered with IMSA last fall, held its first practice on Wednesday and will run a pair of 45-minute races Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, meanwhile, will kick off its 10-race season with the 4-hour BMW Endurance Challenge at 1:35 p.m. Friday.
Single-day tickets (starting at $10) and two-day tickets (starting at $45) are still available and can be bought at the gate or in advance by visiting https://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/ or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Strict COVID-19 protocols (health screenings, temperature checks, masks required) will be in place at all times for those who attend.
9-9:30 a.m.: Practice 2 – Mazda MX-5 Cup
9:45-10:45 a.m.: Practice 2 – Michelin Pilot Challenge
11:05 a.m.-12:05 p.m.: Practice 1 – WeatherTech Championship (All Classes)
12:25 p.m.-12:55 p.m.: Qualifying – Mazda MX-5 Cup
2:25-2:40 p.m.: Qualifying – Michelin Pilot Challenge (TCR)
2:45-3 p.m.: Qualifying – Michelin Pilot Challenge (GS)
3:20 p.m.-4:35 p.m.: Practice 2 – WeatherTech Championship
3:20-3:50 p.m.: Practice 2 – WeatherTech Championship (GTD – Silver/Bronze, LMP3 Silver<30/Bronze, LMP2 Bronze)
3:35-4:35 p.m.: Practice 2 – WeatherTech Championship (GTLM/DPi)
3:50-4:20 p.m.: Practice 2 – WeatherTech Championship (GTD/LMP3/LMP2 All Drivers)
5-5:45 p.m.: Race 1 of 2 – Mazda MX-5 Cup
7:15-9 p.m.: Practice 3 – WeatherTech Championship (All Classes)
9:25-9:55 a.m.: Practice 3 – Michelin Pilot Challenge
10:15-11 a.m.: Race 2 of 2 – Mazda MX-5 Cup
11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: Practice 4 – WeatherTech Championship (All Classes)
1:35 p.m.-5:35 p.m.: BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona
3:40 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.: 59th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona
12 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.: 59th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona
Two-day wristband, Saturday Jan. 30-Sunday, Jan. 31: $68 (Infield/frontstretch seating included).
Unreserved frontstretch seating only: Two-day admission (Saturday, Jan. 30-Sunday, Jan. 31: $45)
Available at gate, Saturday, Jan. 30: Six-hour admission, 6 p.m.-12 a.m., $25.
Single-day ticket, Thursday, Jan. 28: Adults, $10 (in advance and at gate); children 12-under, free.
Single-day ticket, Friday, Jan. 29: Adults, $30 (in advance and at gate); children 12-under, free.
Single-day ticket, Sunday, Jan. 31: Adults, $30 in advance; $35 at gate; children 12-under, free.
Info: 1-800-PITSHOP or daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
- Attendance for the Rolex is being limited because of the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.
- Infield bleachers and frontstretch venue seating will continue to be general admission but with markers showing 6 feet of social distancing between parties.
- Additionally, markers will be placed in standing room only areas along the road course fencelines.
- Closed to fans: Garage Access; fan access to grid walk and ballfield for pre-race festivities; infield tent camping; infield car camping; GEICO Park West tent camping; Café 24 Breakfast.