Some of the Most Historic Names in Racing are Leading the Charge into the Future
By Tony DiZinno
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the best things about IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class and array of four different, brand new LMDh prototypes on the grid is the uncommon collaboration, and uncommon respect, found among the seven team principals.
On a Rolex 24 At Daytona prerace news conference stage that featured Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Wayne Taylor, Bobby Rahal, Bob Johnson and Michael Shank, the youngest member of these seven team principals perhaps summed things up best.
“First of all, me sitting on this stage is out of world, out of body,” Shank said. “These are the folks that I grew up watching and idolizing and run the team very much how they run their teams.”
The level of respect was shared elsewhere.
“I just take my hat off looking at the people here on the dais with us here this morning, the wins that they’ve had here at the race,” Penske said.
“I’m really excited about this, and also I’m humbled by sitting next to Roger, Michael, Chip. Everybody here is just great,” Taylor added.
An even better thought? This weekend’s Rolex 24 was only the beginning for these owners in their new programs, as they work to develop, refine and perfect their brand new GTP prototypes.
Shank and Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Jim Meyer have entered the upper echelon of these legacy operations in just the last few years as they ran their 20th Rolex 24 as a team this weekend.
The work done to get their new Acura ARX-06 in position to ultimately defend the Rolex crown since capping off the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class championship and Motul Petit Le Mans overall win last October was tireless.
“This car has been soul sucking,” Shank said.
“It’s been a lot of work for all the guys that work super hard. Acura, HPD and Honda now, I’m on my ninth season with them overall, and just feel lucky and fortunate.”
Andretti doesn’t have many “firsts” left to tick in an illustrious career first as a driver, and then as a team owner whose company has expanded to multiple series.
But this entry, where the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport Acura GTP was one of three Andretti-affiliated entries in the Rolex 24 (the No. 36 Ligier JS P320 Le Mans Prototype 3 and No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 GT Daytona cars as well) marked one said first.
“For us, we’ve never actually done a 24-hour race, so we’re excited to be here for the first time competing,” said Andretti, whose partnership with Taylor was announced in December.
“We’ve been looking at sports cars for quite some time, and was just looking for the right opportunity, and I think patience paid off. I don’t think we can be in a better situation to team up with Wayne and his great team that he has here.”
In Penske and Rahal’s case, GTP provides an opportunity to either reunite or continue with legacy partners in a new day and age and do something new: go for overall wins.
Penske ran Porsche 917/10s and 917/30s in the 1970s and most recently the RS Spyder LMP2 with Porsche from 2006-2008. Rahal has run the BMW M Team RLL program since 2009, but this year marks its first move away from GT cars.
“Our ability to partner with Porsche gave us an opportunity to try to win one of the races we haven’t overall, and that would obviously be (the 24 Hours of) Le Mans,” Penske said.
Rahal added, “For us as a team to be here with a chance at an overall victory is something that we’ve really hoped for, for many years. We’ve had 14 years, 15 years with BMW, couldn’t ask for a better partner, and just excited about what the future is for this category.”
The future is bright and as Ganassi reflected, it’s worth taking a moment to look back on how far the series has come now after completing the first race of this new era of sports car racing.
“I remember the days when an ‘energy drink’ was a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup,” the owner of his namesake team said. “We had three or four mechanics and we didn’t know what the word ‘engineer’ was.
“It’s changed quite a bit over the time.”