Following last month’s announcement of the 47-car entry list for this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona, more than 150 drivers were unveiled in an updated entry list to participate in this weekend’s annual three-day test session for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“The Roar” as it’s become known over the past several years, serves as the kick off to the upcoming season. This year, it takes on added significance, as the IMSA 50th Anniversary Celebration that will take place throughout 2019 gets under way.
In addition, this weekend serves as the public unveiling for Michelin’s new relationship as the “Official Tire of IMSA.” All 47 WeatherTech Championship race cars will be riding on Michelin tires this weekend and throughout the 2019 season, in addition to 40 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge machines – 31 Grand Sport (GS) and nine Touring Car (TCR) – that also will participate in three days of testing.
The 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opens with the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Jan. 25, the day before the green flag drops on the Rolex 24 At Daytona. On top of WeatherTech Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge testing, this weekend also features the first IMSA-sanctioned race of the season, with 19 IMSA Prototype Challenge LMP3 race cars – also riding on Michelin tires – ready for a three-hour race on the Daytona International Speedway high banks beginning at 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday.
Among the drivers on the WeatherTech Championship entry list this weekend are 18 with at least one series title under their belt since 2014. Ten of those drivers will participate in the flagship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, which has been separated into its own class for 2019, with LMP2 becoming its own, Pro-Am class.
Leading the way are two-time Prototype champions Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi (2014, 2015) in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R. Along with their co-driver, Filipe Albuquerque, Barbosa and Fittipaldi also are defending Rolex 24 At Daytona champions. Fittipaldi has announced that this year’s Rolex 24 will be his last race as a driver, while Barbosa and Albuquerque will continue on as co-drivers for the entire 2019 WeatherTech Championship season.
Their Action Express Racing teammates in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R – Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran – are the reigning WeatherTech Championship Prototype champions and are returning to action this weekend also with a bit of a twist.
Two-time Prototype champion Curran (2016, 2018) will focus on the four 2019 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races – the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and Motul Petit Le Mans – while Pipo Derani, the 2016 Rolex 24 winner and a two-time Sebring winner, joins Nasr full-time in the No. 31 this year.
The star-studded lineup from Acura Team Penske also features a couple of past WeatherTech Championship. Dane Cameron, who won the 2014 GT Daytona (GTD) class title and shared the 2016 Prototype title with Curran, will co-drive the No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 machine with two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and 2016 IndyCar series champion Simon Pagenaud.
In the team’s No. 7 Acura DPi are 2017 Prototype class co-champion Ricky Taylor, along with three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi.
Another formidable DPi lineup can be found in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R where 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype co-champion Jordan Taylor and 2016 Prototype Challenge (PC) class champion Renger van der Zande will be joined by two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and his FIA World Endurance Championship teammate, Kamui Kobayashi.
Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, who won the 2014 and 2015 WeatherTech Championship PC class titles and narrowly missed winning the 2018 Prototype crown, move into the DPi ranks this year in the No. 54 CORE autosport Nissan DPi. They’ll be joined again by Romain Dumas and Loic Duval, with whom they co-drove to a third-place overall result in last year’s Rolex 24.
More past champions can be found in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, most notably in the Corvette Racing garage. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, who won both the 2017 and 2018 WeatherTech Championship GTLM titles, return to the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with their endurance teammate, Mike Rockenfeller. In the team’s No. 4 entry are 2016 GTLM champions Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, who will be joined by Marcel Fassler.
Over at the Porsche GT Team, 2015 GTLM champion Patrick Pilet returns to the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR alongside co-drivers Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki. The same trio won both Sebring and the Motul Petit Le Mans in 2018.
GTLM also includes Ford Chip Ganassi Racing – class winners of the past two Rolex 24s – with 2017 winners Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 66 Ford GT and 2018 winners Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and now five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon in the No. 67.
A former Ganassi driver – Italian Alex Zanardi, who won the 1997 and 1998 Champ Car World Series titles for the team – will be in the cockpit of the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE machine alongside co-drivers Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Mozzie Mostert. Zanardi is preparing for his first race in North America since losing both legs in a Champ Car crash at EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2001.
Three past WeatherTech Championship titlists also can be found among the 90 drivers entered in the 23-car GTD class field. Back to defend his 2018 GTD championship is Bryan Sellers in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 alongside new full-time co-driver Ryan Hardwick, who won the 2018 Lamborghini Super Trofeo AM class world championship. Hardwick and Sellers will share the ride with Corey Lewis and Andrea Caldarelli.
Late last week, it was announced that two-time GTD champion Christina Nielsen (2016, 2017) had been added to the all-female No. 57 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 entry, alongside 2018 GTD runner-up Katherine Legge and past Indy 500 drivers Ana Beatriz and Simona De Silvestro.
Nielsen is replacing Jackie Heniricher, who announced plans at the 2018 Motul Petit Le Mans to compete full-time in the 2019 WeatherTech Championship alongside Legge. Heniricher will miss the Rolex 24 due to a back injury.
GTD also sees the return of 2015 class champion Townsend Bell, who returns to full-time WeatherTech Championship competition in 2019 in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 with full-season co-driver Frankie Montecalvo. They’ll be joined for the Rolex 24 by Indy Lights standout Aaron Telitz and Jeff Segal, with whom Bell co-drove to victories in the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona and 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Other notables in GTD include 2010 Rolex 24 overall winner Ryan Dalziel in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 with co-drivers Parker Chase, Ezequiel Perez Companc and Chris Haase; defending Rolex 24 GTD winners GRT Grasser Racing Team with co-drivers Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Kang Ling in the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracán GT3; and Andy Lally – the active driver with the most Rolex 24 class wins (5) – in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini with John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly.
Another overall Rolex 24 winner AJ Allmendinger (2012) returns in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 alongside Trent Hindman, Mario Farnbacher and Justin Marks; while 58-time IMSA race-winner Bill Auberlen will share the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 with Robby Foley, Dillon Machavern and Jens Klingmann. Auberlen is second on the all-time IMSA win list trailing Scott Pruett – who drove his final race in last year’s Rolex 24 – by two victories.
On-track testing for WeatherTech Championship machines at the Roar begins at 11 a.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 5. The DPi, GTLM and LMP2 classes will have a total of seven practice sessions between Jan. 4 and Jan. 6, with five practice sessions set for the GTD class on Jan. 4-5.
As was the case for the first time in 2018, qualifying for garage allocations and pit lane assignments again will take place for all classes in 2019. The 15-minute GTD qualifying session starts Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET. GTLM qualifying runs from 11:50 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 6, followed by DPi and LMP2 qualifying from 12:15 to 12:30 p.m. ET.
In addition to WeatherTech Championship testing, the Roar also includes six test sessions for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge throughout the three days of on-track activity. Also, the IMSA Prototype Challenge opens its 2019 season with a three-hour race beginning at 12:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 5. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv.
All three days of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona are open to the public, with free admission for 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona ticket holders. Tickets are available now at DaytonaInternationalSpeedway.com.