Alonso’s amazing American adventure now set for Rolex 24

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Indianapolis had its taste of Fernando-mania this May. Daytona will get to devour it next January.

One star set to feature among many in the 2018 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s kickoff event and one of its marquee endurance races, is two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.

Alonso’s recently rumored attempt at the Rolex 24 at Daytona became officially official on Thursday, and with it came the next line of questions about how he and United Autosports assembled the package deal that will see him in one of its Ligier JS P217 Gibsons for the January endurance classic.

“Once we completed the McLaren deal, I approached Zak. I was interested in this race,” Alonso said Thursday.

“I had a very good friend of mine, Antonio Garcia, who races with Chevrolet for many years. I think he’s the champion this year of the GT category (in IMSA). So I was interested.

“I knew that Zak (Brown) had a seat still open, and I approached Zak, what if we do something together for Daytona. I know Zak shares my vision of motorsport, a much wider vision, and exploring different opportunities.”

Alonso, at 36 years old, will enter Daytona as the combined age of his two confirmed co-drivers – McLaren junior and recently crowned FIA F3 European champion Lando Norris and sports car rookie Philip Hanson, who will both be 18 at time of the race. He already poked fun at the age gap between the two of them there.

With both Alonso and Norris – or as they’ll likely be known as ‘Nando and Lando for this race – under the McLaren umbrella but now co-drivers in the same car, there’s already a good dynamic established between them this year.

“I have a great relationship with him from the very beginning of this year,” Alonso said. “Lando joined McLaren and helped us in the simulator. He’s already tested the F1 car in Hungary.

“We have some chats in the last week about go-kart racing, exchanging some text messages. We’re in close contact, to keep spending time together. Obviously it doesn’t only help us in present time with what he’s doing for McLaren, he’s a great talent and a great drive for McLaren. It’s great for us.”

Alonso will mirror the two youngsters as Daytona rookies, while the team’s second car will feature Paul di Resta, Will Owen and at least one more driver to be named later. United returns to the event for the first time in seven years, Brown’s team having run a Daytona Prototype in the 2011 race in tandem with Michael Shank Racing.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JANUARY 28: The #23 Johnnie Walker/FXI/UBS Ford Riley driven by Zak Brown, Mark Patterson, Mark Blundell, Martin Brundle drives duing practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 28, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

The Rolex 24 experience is uniquely an American one, because it combines the best melting pot of the racing world in one location.

The fact the primary front straight grandstand doesn’t have a ton of people in it is highly misleading when it comes time to understand the enthusiasm and the allure of the event. Most Rolex 24 attendees do so in the infield, and the symphony of various engine notes light up the long night during the race.

Alonso will test at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 for sure, with a seat fit coming well before then. His participation in an IMSA test in December is doubtful at this stage.

He’s never been to Daytona before, but like Indianapolis, it will offer Alonso his own unique taste of the American racing experience as he continues his growth and development in a new form of motorsport.

“My experience in the Indy 500 showed how much fun I can have in American racing, and how much love I get from the fans,” Alonso said.

“I’ll be happy to join this adventure with United Autosports. As I did in Indianapolis, even if I don’t have experience, when I close the visor, I will go for a win and that’s what matters now.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.