IndyCar and NASCAR presence basically set for Rolex 24

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One of the best parts about the Rolex 24 at Daytona is the volume of Verizon IndyCar Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars that will be in the race, considering their seasons don’t start for at least another month or two.

There’s inevitably a bumper crop of drivers from both that pop up. Thus far, that includes at least 13 of the 33 starters in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 (more than one-third of the field), and three from NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Here’s a rundown of confirmed and possible drivers from IndyCar and NASCAR set for the Rolex 24:

INDYCAR

  • Sebastien Bourdais, No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (P)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 7 Starworks Motorsport Riley-Dinan BMW (P)
  • Charlie Kimball, No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)
  • Sage Karam, No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)
  • Tony Kanaan, No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)
  • Scott Dixon, No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)
  • Jack Hawksworth, No. 11 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 (PC)
  • Martin Plowman, No. 61 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 (PC)
  • Ryan Briscoe, No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R (GTLM)
  • Simon Pagenaud, No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R (GTLM)
  • Graham Rahal, No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE (GTLM)
  • Townsend Bell, No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (GTD)
  • James Davison, No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage (GTD)

Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, Kimball, Kanaan, Dixon, Hawksworth, Briscoe, Pagenaud and Rahal all raced the full 2014 season, with Karam, Bell, Davison and Plowman each racing in the Indianapolis 500. Bell also serves as NBCSN’s IndyCar analyst.

NASCAR

  • AJ Allmendinger, No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda (P)
  • Jamie McMurray, No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)
  • Kyle Larson, No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford (P)

The NASCAR contingent is much smaller but it’s three full-timers in Allmendinger, McMurray and Larson, plus Max Papis, who of course races sporadically in Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Trucks, in the No. 31 Whelen/Action Express Racing Corvette DP. Papis did not run a single NASCAR race in 2014.

More to come?

Chances are strong at least two more IndyCar-affiliated drivers will be joining the IndyCar list later this month.

Beyond the ones already listed, James Hinchcliffe is a likely candidate somewhere. Hinchcliffe told this writer last month he was close on a couple things, but wouldn’t be returning to the SpeedSource Mazda team he’s driven for the last three years.

Justin Wilson does not have a confirmed IndyCar ride for 2015, but would be a good get for any team for the Rolex 24. Wilson is out at Michael Shank Racing, replaced by teenaged rookie Matt McMurry.

The 2014 Indy Lights champion, Gabby Chaves, figures to return with the DeltaWing team. Chaves is seeking a full-time ride in IndyCar next season.

It’s doubtful any further NASCAR-affiliated drivers will join beyond the four mentioned above.

Most P and GTLM class rides are confirmed, which leaves only the pro-am PC and GTD classes as outlets for drivers to go.

Either way, the already confirmed drivers will have a chance to shake the rust off and get going starting with this weekend’s Roar and the Rolex 24 later this month, January 24-25.

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty IPhoto by Mark Thompson/Getty Imagesmages
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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.