The World Comes To Daytona …
Open-Wheel Influence Dates Back To Inaugural Race In 1962
(Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series this week detailing the multi-faceted flavor of the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona, in terms of various racing disciplines represented in the event. Today, open-wheel drivers are spotlighted.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2012) – When drivers sprinted to their cars at the beginning of the first running of the event now known as the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1962, it was fitting that the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion led the very first lap of competition.
A.J. Foyt went on to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, and extended his career with two victories and a pair of runner-up finishes in the Rolex 24 from 1983-86. This weekend, Foyt returns to Daytona International Speedway as Grand Marshal for the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Foyt should feel right at home when he gives the command to start the engines. Three former Indy 500 winners will be in the field which includes a number of past and present stars from the open-wheel ranks. (CART, IndyCar Series and Champ Car)
This year’s Rolex 24, the most anticipated road race in the history of North American motorsports, includes former Indy 500 winners Dario Franchitti of Scotland (2007, ‘10), Scott Dixon of New Zealand (2008) and Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia (2000) – all of whom have Rolex 24 victories driving for Target/TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Tradition is being served; Indy 500 winners Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk and Dan Wheldon also won the Rolex 24 during their careers.
Dixon and Wheldon teamed with Casey Mears to give the Chip Ganassi organization its first Rolex 24 triumph in the 2006 event. Montoya won in 2007 and ‘08, joined by Franchitti in the latter event.
The Ganassi lineup also includes Graham Rahal – who was part of the team’s winning lineup in the 2011 Rolex 24. An IndyCar series winner at St. Petersburg in 2008, he follows in the footsteps of his father, 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who credits his victory in the 1981 Rolex 24 with launching his open-wheel career.
“The Rolex 24 is the most fun event we do all year,” Dixon said. “It gets everyone together. All of us on the team are pretty close with our times, so everyone pulls their weight.”
Ganassi’s lineup is led by Scott Pruett, two-time defending Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champion (with Memo Rojas) and four-time Rolex 24 winner. And while Pruett is generally viewed as a sports car racer, he competed in open-wheel cars in the 1980s and ‘90s, winning twice and being named Indy 500 co-rookie of the year in 1989.
Other current and past open-wheel stars expected to compete in the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 include:
· A.J. Allmendinger: Five-time Champ Car winner, third in championship in 2006.
· John Andretti: CART race winner at Australia in 1991; 12-time Indy 500 participant.
· Ryan Briscoe: Third in 2009 IndyCar championship, six-time winner.
· Christian Fittipaldi: Two victories in eight CART seasons, second in 1995 Indy 500.
· James Hinchcliffe: 2011 IndyCar Sunoco Rookie of the Year.
· Ryan Hunter-Reay: IndyCar victory at Long Beach in 2010.
· Davy Jones: 1996 Indy 500 runner-up.
· Tony Kanaan: 2004 Indy 500 runner-up; 15 open-wheel wins; ‘04 IndyCar champion.
· Raphael Matos: 13 top-10 finishes in 38 career IndyCar races.
· Max Papis: Three-time Champ Car winner.
· Eliseo Salazar: CART race winner at Las Vegas (1997).
· Scott Sharp: 1996 IndyCar co-champion, five top-10 finishes in Indy 500.
· Paul Tracy: 2003 CART titlist; 2002 Indy 500 runner-up; 31-time open-wheel winner.
· E.J. Viso: Four years in IndyCar, 12 podium finishes.
· Justin Wilson: Two victories and one pole in four IndyCar seasons.