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Formula 1 and the Rolex 24 At Daytona

Links Between the World Championship and the Twice-Around-The-Clock Classic Are Numerous


By John Oreovicz


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – You may have heard that Apple Original Films is producing a Formula 1-themed feature starring Brad Pitt as a racing driver who returns to F1 to mentor a young driver played by Damson Idris.


You may also have heard that there’s a direct IMSA connection to the as-yet-unnamed project. While there have been no Brad Pitt sightings at Daytona International Speedway this month (yet), scenes are being shot during Roar Before the Rolex 24 and Rolex 24 At Daytona action featuring “Chip Hart Racing” fielding the No. 120 Porsche 911 GT3 R for Pitt’s character Sonny Hayes and his teammates “C. Kelso” and “P. Long.” It’s a real-life Rolex 24 entry, prepared by Wright Motorsports and driven by Adam Adelson, Elliott Skeer, Jan Heylen and Fred Makowiecki.


The driver names posted above the door of the No. 120 Porsche are a mixture of fact and fiction. But it also isn’t much of a stretch for a driver to make their way from Daytona’s high banks to the streets of Monaco and beyond. Links between Formula 1 and top-level sports car racing like the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are very real – not to mention deep and longstanding.


Just five years ago, two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso was part of Wayne Taylor Racing’s Rolex 24 winning team, as was Kamui Kobayashi – who while best known as a three-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship, also started 75 F1 races between 2009 and ’14, including a podium finish in his home race, the Japanese Grand Prix. A year earlier, Alonso was part of a Rolex 24 driver lineup for now full-time IMSA competitor United Autosports that included current F1 star Lando Norris.


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In all, nearly 200 drivers who have started a Formula 1 Grand Prix have also competed in the Rolex 24. As of this coming weekend, the list will include 36 F1 race winners and six World Champions – Alonso, Jenson Button, Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Denis Hulme and Mario Andretti. Button, the 2009 F1 top gun, will compete for the overall win in this year’s Rolex 24 as part of the lineup in Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti’s No. 40 Acura ARX-06 in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class.


Ten other drivers who have raced in F1 are also entered in this year’s Rolex 24: Jack Aitken, Sebastien Bourdais, Gianmaria Bruni, Paul di Resta, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Brendon Hartley, Felipe Massa, Felipe Nasr and Alexander Rossi.


Andretti Loved Opportunity to Show His Versatility


Andretti can claim a victory in a sports car endurance race at Daytona. But in 1972 – the year he triumphed with Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari 312PB prototype – the event was reduced from 24 hours to six due to a one-year anomaly in worldwide sports car regulations.


Andretti is regarded as possibly the most versatile racer of all time. In addition to his 12 Grand Prix victories and the 1978 F1 World Championship for Lotus, he won 52 Indy car races and four championships, the 1967 Daytona 500 in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he compiled a long and prestigious sports car career that started with the Ford Le Mans effort in 1966.


In two years as a factory Ferrari driver in 1971 and ’72, Andretti ran 10 F1 races and seven in sports cars, from which he took four wins teamed with Ickx. Renowned as a sports car legend (six overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans), Ickx also happened to win eight Formula 1 Grands Prix.


While most Americans think of Andretti as an Indy car driver, racing’s international fanbase looks at him through the prism of Formula 1 and sports cars. The man himself doesn’t care – he wanted to do it all!


“I’m personally glad that I had that opportunity as part of my career, and there are a lot of reasons why that doesn’t happen as often anymore,” Mario said. “The bottom line is that I was inspired by A.J. Foyt, by Dan Gurney, by people like that who would move around and do other things. I loved my driving so much that I just wanted to be driving. I didn’t look forward to a weekend off.


“I’d go from a Formula 1 race in Argentina to USAC in Du Quoin, Illinois,” he marveled. “From a 1,000-kilometer sports car race at Monza to the Hoosier Hundred … you know, from Formula 1 to a dirt car. How opposite is that? And I used to love that opportunity. I wouldn’t trade that part of my career for anything, quite honestly. That was awesome.”


Endurance Sports Car Racing is a Driver Magnet


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Four current F1 drivers have competed in the Rolex 24: Alonso, his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll, the aforementioned Norris (who went on to finish second in the FIA Formula 2 championship later in 2018 prior to his graduation to F1) and Kevin Magnussen of the Haas F1 team. Magnussen’s father, Jan, also made starts in F1 and the Rolex 24.


The fact that every major racing series from Formula 1 to IndyCar to NASCAR publicizes the involvement of its drivers in the Rolex 24 demonstrates the level of prestige the annual sports car endurance race at Daytona International Speedway holds within the worldwide racing community.


Endurance sports car racing has traditionally functioned as a common denominator for drivers who otherwise specialize in other forms of racing around the world. Top-tier sports car events, like the Rolex 24, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans represent the rare occasion where the world’s best racers come together.


Andretti, for one, loves when that happens. He wishes it would occur more often, like in the late 1960s and early ‘70s when the Rolex 24 field would routinely include half a dozen current F1 drivers. Imagine Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez in an Acura prototype, or one of the current McLaren F1 drivers bolstering the marque’s IMSA GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) effort.


“The top drivers of any era would deal with what is thrown at them and would be at the front,” Andretti said. “There is no reason Juan Manuel Fangio or Stirling Moss wouldn’t have adapted to modern technology and all that. Or put a guy like Verstappen or Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna in a Mercedes W196 or a Ferrari of that era and he would deal with that. The human element adapts to whatever is thrown at them and special talent will always rise to the top.”


Formula 1 is and likely will always be the world’s most prestigious form of motorsport. But sports car racing has its own unique value and prestige, and IMSA’s version of it will be on display alongside F1 when the Apple/Brad Pitt racing movie reaches screens of every size.