DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They’ve proven themselves champions in other motorsports disciplines, but Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin know they’re starting from scratch once again as they prepare to take on the Rolex 24 At Daytona. And it’s just the challenge they’re seeking.
Newgarden and McLaughlin, NTT IndyCar Series drivers for Team Penske, were named Monday as co-drivers for the No. 8 Tower Motorsports entry in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class for January’s 61st running of the Rolex 24, alongside team owner John Farano and rising star Kyffin Simpson.
Farano and the No. 8 Tower ORECA LMP2 07 took home the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the class, climaxing the effort with a third consecutive victory in the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans.
Conversely for Newgarden and McLaughlin, the iconic 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway will mark the debut for them in the WeatherTech Championship as well as in a prototype racer.
“I’ve never driven a prototype before,” admitted McLaughlin, who won three Australian Supercars championships before joining the Penske IndyCar program in 2021, where he won four races and finished fourth in the standings this season. “The whole reason I’m doing this is really I’ve never done this race before but I’m trying to expand my racing portfolio. Saying that, you have to expand it doing some marquee events. Daytona 24 Hour, Sebring and Petit, that’s three events in America that I really want to do.”
Newgarden, the two-time IndyCar Series champion, said he’s been trying to put together a deal for the Rolex 24 for several years. Once his ride was set, he asked teammate and friend McLaughlin to come along for the adventure and the New Zealander readily agreed.
“There’s a lot of variables that we’re not familiar with, both Scott and myself, so we’re going to be getting up to speed to some degree,” Newgarden said. “But I believe in our approach and our abilities and I know Scott very well at this point, and I know exactly what he’s capable of.
“I feel him and I together can set the tone just fine and try and really align with John and Kyffin and make this a robust effort. Even though it’s brand new to us and we’re going to have to learn a lot, I think we can tackle the challenge head on and be there at the end of the race.”
Farano said he’s “elated to partner with Josef and Scott, who are seasoned pros and will undoubtedly bring that added spark and determination to the team. I am equally excited to welcome the very talented Kyffin Simpson to our team and looking forward to sharing our car with him for all the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races.”
Newgarden will get his first taste of the LMP2 at the two-day IMSA test this week at Daytona. He’ll relay information to McLaughlin, who will be in Australia through the holidays and won’t get any seat time until Roar Before the Rolex 24 testing, Jan. 20-22.
Both drivers said they’ll also reach out to members of Team Penske who’ve competed at the Rolex 24 before, as well as some of the other IndyCar drivers who are Rolex 24 veterans, for their insights. They’re also happy to be part of a team with a championship pedigree in Tower.
“You can see that they certainly know how to deliver results and they all seem very motivated,” Newgarden said, “so I’m excited to get to know everybody more and put in our best effort and try and help them win a Rolex. At the end of the day, we’re not showing up just to compete. We’re there to go after a win and try and help John get a Rolex.”
And while they are just entering the prime of their IndyCar careers, both drivers admit having an eye toward additional prototype races down the road – especially with Porsche Penske Motorsport preparing Porsche 963 prototypes to tackle the top class in both the WeatherTech Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship starting in 2023.
“No doubt,” McLaughlin answered when asked about his long-term interest in the Penske LMDh program. “For me, (the ride with Tower) is a great introduction into this racing where I can learn and understand the race a little bit. … If you can run an LMP2, it’s not too dissimilar to what the top class runs.
“I might not ever be a part of it and there’s nothing being promised to me about that – and I think the same thing is for Josef – but I think it’s just the fact of if I expand my CV by proving I’ve done this race before and then absolutely if Penske come up to me and the team said, ‘Would you like to drive that Porsche?’ For sure, I’d love to do it. But ultimately this year is just focusing on Tower.”
Newgarden echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
“It’s hard to speak for the Penske Porsche Motorsport program,” the Tennessean said. “It’s very exciting to watch what they’re doing and obviously we’re big fans of it being within the team, seeing it grow and evolve and excited to see where it’s going to go.
“If there’s something that comes up down the road and they want to put us in the car, we’re going to be all about it, both Scott and I.”