Gordon's return is a big story. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Nearly a dozen IndyCar drivers, only Gordon for NASCAR, set for Rolex 24

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Upon the release of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list comes the release of all the drivers who are among the guest stars at the season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Interestingly, NASCAR’s presence of drivers at this year’s race is reduced, while the Verizon IndyCar Series still has a strong presence.

As both Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Shank Racing have moved to the GT categories, with Ganassi running four Ford GTs in GT Le Mans and Shank running two of the new Acura NSX GT3s in GT Daytona, their usual NASCAR extra drivers at Daytona aren’t present in 2017.

Neither Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson will have their usual Rolex 24 outing with Ganassi. Both drivers were part of the No. 02 Riley Ford entry that won overall in 2015 with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, rounding out the lineup. McMurray has eight career Rolex 24 starts, starting in 2005 and then continuing through last year. Larson only has three career Rolex 24 starts, each of the last three years.

Meanwhile with Shank’s team running the factory Acura program, AJ Allmendinger is not part of the Shank lineup. Allmendinger has been part of every Shank run at the Rolex 24 since 2006, including the popular winning lineup in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

This means there isn’t a single full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver in the Rolex 24 field. Instead, only Jeff Gordon, who comes out of his brief retirement, will make his second Rolex 24 start with the Konica Minolta-backed Wayne Taylor Racing team in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Gordon shares that car with the car’s usual trio of Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli.

Gordon was the center of attention at the December IMSA test and recapped his first running in the car last month. He said during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 that his focus for endurance racing was only on Daytona.

Austin Cindric, who will race full-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, would be considered the lone full-time NASCAR driver in the field. The 18-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric has already established himself as one of the most versatile drivers in the country, and will share a Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IndyCar, meanwhile, boasts more than a third of its 2017 full-season lineup, plus a number of others who raced at least once in 2016 as part of its 2017 contingent at the Rolex 24.

Here’s the full breakdown, with each driver’s car and co-drivers:

  • Spencer Pigot, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez)
  • James Hinchcliffe, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Tom Long, Joel Miller)
  • RC Enerson, No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson (Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Mike Guasch)
  • Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller)
  • Scott Dixon, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook)
  • Tony Kanaan, No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell)
  • Sage Karam, No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Scott Pruett, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes)
  • Jack Hawksworth, No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher)
  • Townsend Bell, No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS (Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer)
  • Graham Rahal, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins)

Of those 11 drivers, Bourdais, Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal have overall wins at the Rolex 24, with Bell adding a class win. Hunter-Reay has come close on a couple occasions. The other five younger drivers, in Pigot, Hinchcliffe, Karam and Hawksworth look for a breakout Rolex 24 race, while Enerson makes his sports car debut.

This doesn’t factor in others with past IndyCar experience prior to 2016, who are peppered in elsewhere in the field.

There’s plenty of other standout sports car drivers as well among the guest drivers, as the field is pretty well-stocked this year from top to bottom.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.