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There are 10 full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers lining up in Saturday's Rolex 24 At Daytona. (IMSA photo)

What IndyCar Drivers Are Racing The Rolex 24?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There are six Indianapolis 500 victories, 134 IndyCar race wins and nine season championships among the 10 full-time IndyCar Series drivers entered in the weekend’s 61st Rolex 24 At Daytona.

And yet, without exception, each of these accomplished open-wheel stars concedes their work in this famed twice-around-the-clock sports car race is as much an education as performance. A victory perhaps even sweeter because of that circumstance.

Several IndyCar stars have already hoisted trophies in Daytona International Speedway’s famed victory lane and proudly sported Rolex watches for their winning efforts in the Rolex 24. Four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and fellow Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud did so just last year co-driving the overall-winning No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura.

As optimistic and excited as these IndyCar stars are for the weekend, they are always quick to acknowledge that their past success here is largely because of the talented IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers they have shared cockpits with.  

“It’s a huge responsibility to bring you’re ‘A’ game in a car that you don’t know well,’’ said 2019 Indy 500 winner Pagenaud, who returns this weekend with Meyer Shank Racing and the new Acura ARX-06 along with Castroneves and the car’s full-time drivers, Colin Braun and Tom Blomqvist. “It’s difficult to adjust to something completely new. And they (sports car drivers) specialize on that car, so they have the edge on you, but still you have to do your job and you have the responsibility to bring it to a good position.

“So, it’s a very different kind of pressure than what we experience on the IndyCar side when you know every little detail of everything — how the tires behave, how the pit stop is going to go, how your seat is. In this environment, everything is kind of new and there’s a lot of adaptation.”

Pagenaud, Castroneves, Colton Herta and Scott Dixon will all be competing in the WeatherTech Championship’s much-anticipated new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) lead class in Daytona. 

Castroneves has nine career sports car victories, captured the 2020 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) season championship while driving for Acura Team Penske and has won the last two Rolex 24 races. But the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion says no matter his past accomplishments in seasons spent in open-wheel or sports cars, he always comes to this celebrated endurance race with an open mind.

“Tom and Colin have been around the business,’’ said Castroneves, who drives for Meyer Shank Racing in the IndyCar series as well. “The way they drive and the way they do it — especially in a car they are sharing with drivers from so many other series — there’s so much to learn. But when we all get together, there’s a lot of fun. We enjoy racing and obviously want to do the best. We cheer for each other. 

“They are the ones carrying the flag for driving the entire series, but we feel really responsible to make sure we do our part and we know our part (at Daytona). I learn as much as anybody. Always when I’m behind the wheel I’m learning something — even in IndyCar — so that’s why it’s important for me to drive as if it’s my championship, my car.”

Yet, Castroneves is mindful — even appreciative — for the sports car aces he’s competing with and against.

“Every time I come back to IMSA, you’re racing against such incredible talents here,’’ Castroneves said. “You really have to push the limit to race against those guys. It’s their championship. It keeps you pushing, keeps you going and the series receives you with open arms.’’

Herta, a two-time Rolex 24 winner — GT Le Mans in 2019, Le Mans Prototype 2 in 2022 — will be driving in both BMW M Team RLL GTP entries this weekend. As a part-time driver with a team, especially in a new car making a new class debut, he believes it should force his fellow open-wheelers to be both mindful and committed.

His comfort level is increased, however, with proven teammates in Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus, Marco Wittmann, Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Sheldon van der Linde.

“There’s a lot of respect for these guys and especially for the factory guys,’’ Herta said. “The diversity they have to have is very impressive and it does make you raise your game too because this is their main championship. You don’t want to ruin something that they have. And because they are very used to the car, you can learn a lot from them.

“And,’’ he added with a wide smile, “they are very, very fast.”

There is a reason these particular open-wheel drivers have been invited to share the driver’s seat. Their skill has resulted in 30 IMSA top-tier series wins among six IndyCar regulars — Castroneves, Pagenaud, Herta, Scott Dixon, Kyle Kirkwood and Devlin DeFrancesco. There are a combined 10 Rolex 24 wins among them, either overall or in class. Dixon is the leader with four overall victories.

In addition to those six Rolex 24 returnees, Rinus VeeKay is back for a third try. Three more IndyCar regulars — Romain Grosjean, Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden — are making their debuts in the race.

“The expectations are high but we’re really proud of that because it means we’ve gone well in other categories and what not,’’ said McLaughlin, who will team with IndyCar teammate Newgarden, John Farano and Kyffin Simpson in the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07. “But we certainly respect our competition and know it’s going to be tough. Teams that are in this business are very strong. We believe in our own abilities and there’s no reason why we can’t run quick.’’

Grosjean, who will work as a GTP development driver for Lamborghini in addition to his IndyCar duties this year, will race in the No. 63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 this weekend in the GTD PRO class.

It’s another item to check off on his racing bucket list.

“I’ve done Monaco, the Indy 500, Le Mans and now I’m doing the Daytona 24,’’ Grosjean said smiling. “In a career, the chance to do those, I think I’ve done the most amazing races around the world. And to win a nice watch, I wouldn’t mind a Rolex on Sunday.’’