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 1rd0446 2022 01 29

Teams, Drivers Prepare for Big Chill that is Rolex 24

High Winds, Cold Temperatures Expected for 60th Running

 

By Jeff Olson

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Alex Palou is ready for a cold night shift. So are 234 other drivers this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

Palou, the reigning IndyCar Series champion, is competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the first time, and he’s doing it with one of the best teams in the sport. Chip Ganassi Racing has won the famous 24-hour endurance race six times since 2006 and was leading in the final minutes last year before a punctured tire ended its bid.

Palou joins three established veterans – Renger van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais – in the team’s No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy DPi Cadillac V.R. He’s spent the past week trying to absorb as much as possible while preparing for the unexpected.

“Hopefully I’ll get a lot of laps during the night and give them the car in P1,” Palou said. “Then the big responsibility will be theirs. I have the luck of having really good teammates. I can rely on them if I have some issues. I can learn a lot from them.”

Some of that learning is likely to involve finding grip in cold weather. The temperature is expected to drop into the low 30s overnight, making traction difficult to acquire, especially on out laps from pit lane.

“We run in the cold, but not that cold,” Bourdais said. “It’s not exactly a known territory. The biggest thing obviously is the out lap, especially at night when it gets that cold. We’ll just take it a little bit easier. Once you get past that terrifying experience on the out lap on cold tires, then it’s mostly OK.”

The 24-hour race to open the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will see the green flag at 1:40 p.m. ET Saturday. NBC Sports has complete coverage, beginning on NBC network at 1:30 p.m. Among the prerace storylines:

Freezing Florida: A wind chill advisory – something Floridians rarely experience – has been issued for the early morning hours Sunday, when strong north winds will make it feel like 25 degrees. A freeze watch also will be in effect, but the latest forecasts indicate little chance of rain through the race.

Cool temperatures usually are desirable for proper grip. Cold temperatures are not. Bourdais had the fastest lap during the final practice session Friday – 1 minute 34.732 seconds (135.487 mph) – but that was when the ambient temperature was in the upper 50s.

“You have to accept what it gives you,” said Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. “It will take a while to get your tires up to temperature, but that’s a relative thing for anyone. … I think we saw it in the conditions we had (Friday). Conditions rapidly changed, and people adapted to it quite quickly. I think they all learned a lot about how tires would react, particularly in cold weather.”

Chasing history: Wayne Taylor Racing will attempt to win the race for a record fourth consecutive time, breaking the record set by Ganassi in 2008. The No. 10 WTR Acura ARX-05 – co-driven by Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens – won the Motul Pole Award by winning a 100-minute qualifying race Sunday.

“We’ve done all the right things so far,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “We have really good drivers and a really good team, and the weather conditions are certainly going to play a significant role in this race. Driving in 31- to 35-degree temperatures is going to make it extremely hard for guys to get out of the pits and keep it on the track when the surface is so cold. I see lots of yellows coming.”

Changing champions: Two months ago, Action Express Racing celebrated the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) title with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. The team returns for the final season of DPi with one new full-time driver.

Felipe Nasr left Action Express to join Porsche’s foray into LMDh and the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class, which will replace DPi as the top WeatherTech Championship class in 2023. He’ll compete this weekend in the GTD PRO class, but former teammate Pipo Derani will carry on in the No. 31 with new fulltime co-driver Tristan Nunez and endurance specialist Mike Conway.

“It is important you have camaraderie between yourself, the team and the other driver because you have to give up so much for the greater benefit of the team,” Derani said. “When you have a good relationship with your teammate, that only helps.”

Bulging Field: The numbers are in: A field of 61 cars and 235 drivers in five classes is set to race for 1,440 minutes in temperatures expected to drop to freezing overnight. The rookie Palou has received his advice.

“They told me to take it easy because it’s so long,” Palou said. “They also said, ‘Good things are going to happen, and bad things are going to happen.’ It’s all about making sure you’re in a good place in the last hour. Then the real race starts.”