Sixty-One Cars and 62 Past Winners Will Race in the 61st Running
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s not just the sophistication and technical relevance of the cars competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona this week that has piqued interest in the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener to heights unseen in years. It’s also the outstanding list of drivers from all over the world who will battle for 24 hours for the right to earn one of the most prestigious prizes in motorsport.
The 61st running of the twice-around-the-clock spectacle at Daytona International Speedway features the rebirth of the heralded Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class, but with a major state-of-the-art twist. The nine prototypes entered in GTP contain an electrified hybrid powertrain system paired with an internal combustion engine designed by each of the four global auto manufacturers. The anticipation for the actual racing debut of these forward-thinking machines has been, well, electric.
Four other competition classes will be in the heralded race as well – Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) and GT Daytona (GTD) – making for a jam-packed field of 61 cars (appropriate for the 61st running) eager to get started in what’s considered the traditional worldwide kickoff for the racing season. And with the list of drivers and teams involved, it’s no wonder that the Rolex 24 grabs international attention.
Of the 234 drivers on the entry list, 62 are past Rolex 24 overall or class winners. More than three dozen have conquered the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There are three past Indianapolis 500 winners and even the reigning Daytona 500 champion from NASCAR.
NBC Sports has complete race coverage beginning on NBC network at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Stints will follow on USA Network (2:30-8 p.m. Saturday; 10-11:59 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m.-noon Sunday) before returning to NBC for the dramatic conclusion from noon-2 p.m. Sunday. Peacock, IMSA’s livestream home, has flag-to-flag coverage of all 24 hours in the U.S. The international livestream is available in most countries outside the U.S. at IMSA.com/TVLive. IMSA Radio also has complete coverage.
Four of the five winning teams from the 2022 Rolex 24 return in their classes, though each has gone through some change and the competition level has been raised across the board:
Grand Touring Prototype (nine cars entered): Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian used the win last year in the discontinued Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class as a springboard to the season championship. Now the No. 60 starts anew with the new hybrid-based car, the No. 60 Acura ARX-06, and things appear promising. Tom Blomqvist converted a last-lap dash to win the Motul Pole Award in qualifying on Sunday; that after the No. 60 sat atop the speed chart for most of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test sessions.
Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud return to defend the 2022 victory, with Colin Braun filling out the lineup as Blomqvist’s season-long co-driver. Competition will be stiff, however, as Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport races its own Acura ARX-06, Porsche Penske Motorsport enters a pair of Porsche 963s, BMW M Team RLL has two BMW M Hybrid V8s, and Cadillac enters three cars – two from Chip Ganassi Racing and a third from Action Express Racing.
Le Mans Prototype 2 (10 cars entered): The winning team from a year ago (DragonSpeed USA) isn’t back, but two of the winning drivers are. Eric Lux and Devlin DeFrancesco have moved to the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing ORECA LMP2 07, where they’re joined by Formula 1 driver Pietro Fittipaldi and Austin Cindric, the 2022 Daytona 500 winner.
Le Mans Prototype 3 (nine cars entered): Riley Motorsports is seeking a Rolex 24 three-peat in this class, as is driver Gar Robinson in the No. 74 Ligier JS P320. Felipe Fraga joined Robinson in last year’s win and they’ll have a pair of new co-drivers this year in Glenn van Berlo (younger brother of Kay, who was part of the No. 74 winner in 2022) and Josh Burdon.
GT Daytona Pro (10 cars entered): Variety is the spice in this GT3-specification class, with eight manufacturers represented. The race-winning Pfaff Motorsports team returns, but with a completely new driver lineup (Klaus Bachler, Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor) and a new 992 generation version of the Porsche 911 GT3 R. A late entry list change finds the No. 53 MDK Motorsports Porsche, whose lineup includes sports car great Jan Magnussen, moving from the GTD class to GTD PRO.
GT Daytona (23 cars entered): The largest class in the field returns the defending winner in Wright Motorsports and three drivers from that No. 16 Porsche – Ryan Hardwick, Jan Heylen and Zacharie Robichon. Dennis Olsen fills out the four-driver roster.
But with so many entries and eight manufacturers involved, it’s a crapshoot determining who may be the favorite. Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini each have new or updated cars making their racing debuts. How will they fare over the grueling 24 hours?
The action should be amazing throughout the field and throughout the 24 hours.