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Double dip of testing for Ganassi lies ahead in Florida this week

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Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will have all eight of its cars split between its Verizon IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship programs testing in Florida this week, with four cars each at two typical Florida winter testing hotbeds.

Per the team, the four-car Honda-powered IndyCar program will test on Thursday at Sebring International Raceway’s short course, in a makeup test for one affected by rain in December.

Then on Friday, the four-car Ford GT Le Mans program in the WeatherTech Championship will hit the high banks of Daytona International Speedway as part of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.

CGR’s IndyCar driver roster – Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton – will all be back behind the wheel on the road course Thursday at Sebring. This will be Kimball and Chilton’s first test in an IndyCar since the end of the season at Sonoma on Sept. 18.

The test will take place one day before the start of the Roar (Jan. 6-8), as Dixon and Kanaan will head north to Daytona to take up their roles in two of the four Ford GTs.

Kimball, who made the 100th start of his IndyCar career in the 2016 season-ending event at Sonoma, took to Instagram to reveal how much he is looking forward to getting some laps in, after a busy offseason filled with a number of partner events for Novo Nordisk.

As noted above, CGR had originally planned to test last month at Sebring along with Dale Coyne Racing, but the event was rained out. Coyne will make up days at Sebring later this month.

Here’s a quick recap of 2016 for the CGR drivers:

* Four-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon was unable to defend his 2015 title, finishing sixth in 2016. Dixon had two wins, four podiums and two poles. And while his average start (6.2) was fairly consistent from previous seasons, his average finish (9.8) was his lowest since 2005 (14.4).

* Kanaan’s results have been better than his ultimate championship position the last three years, as he’s gone seventh, eighth and seventh since 2014. He looks to end a winless streak that dates to 2014 and finished on the podium twice last year.

* Kimball turns 32 on February 20. Even though he failed to win a race, finish on the podium or claim a pole, he still ended 2016 with his best IndyCar season finish ever: tied for eighth. He also had career bests for average start (10.9) and average finish (9.2).

* A rookie last season, Chilton returns for his sophomore campaign for CGR and in the IndyCar Series, looking for significant improvement over his rookie season in 2016: finished 19th, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 poles, led just two laps (of 1,903), average start (13.9), average finish (16.1), nine lead-lap finishes.

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”