Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll add Formula 1 flavor to Roar Before the Rolex 24

Photo: Getty Images

Given that the Rolex 24 takes place in January, when most other racing series are in their off seasons, it often draws in drivers from a number of championships outside of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While most one-off drivers come from INDYCAR or NASCAR, and the various series they sanction, other series also are represented, such as the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Yet, one series is consistently unrepresented in terms of its full-time drivers making the trek over for the Rolex: the Formula 1 World Championship. While many drivers on the grid have Formula 1 experience on their resume, rarely do current drivers on the F1 grid make an appearance at the 24-hour endurance race.

However the 2018 iteration sees a change in that vein as a pair of full-time Formula 1 drivers, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and second-youngest ever podium finisher Lance Stroll, are set to enter the event, Alonso with United Autosports and Stroll with Jackie Chan DC Racing, with both scheduled to be at this weekend’s Roar Before the 24.

In terms of fanfare, Alonso arrives with possibly the most among any of the drivers entered in this year’s Rolex. His entry at the Rolex 24 is a continuation of an American odyssey that began last May when he made a surprise appearance at the Indianapolis 500, kicking off his personal journey to complete the triple crown – victories at the Monaco Grand Prix (of which Alonso has two), the Indianapolis 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Although Alonos’s Indy 500 effort ended on lap 179 with an engine failure, he endeared himself to many by simply making an attempt, and he handled every challenge with dignity, humility, and even humor, and he quickly became a fan favorite.

Now making the jump to sports cars, Alonso’s Rolex 24 entry is widely regarded as a tuneup of sorts for a possible venture to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. United Autosports confirmed Alonso’s Rolex entry in October, and the 36-year-old completed his first outing with the team in a November test.

Alonso’s transition has appeared seamless and has undoubtedly helped the fact that the United Autosports team co-owner, Zak Brown, also serves as executive director for the McLaren Technology group, the parent company of McLaren F1 Team, with whom Alonso competes in Formula 1. Brown lauded Alonso’s initial test with United Autosports, calling his effort “awesome.”

Alonso will share the No. 23 Ligier LMP2 Gibson with Phil Hanson and Lando Norris, newly named as the McLaren F1 test and reserve driver.

While Alonso may receive a lot, if not the most media attention of all the drivers, his full-time F1 counterpart Lance Stroll is not to be forgotten. The irony here is that Stroll, who is 17 years younger than Alonso, is actually the more experienced of the two when it comes to the Rolex 24.

Canada’s Lance Stroll will join fellow Formula One driver Fernando Alonso in this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 (Getty Images).

Stroll previously contested this event in 2016 with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in a Daytona Prototype. Though his apprenticeship wasn’t exactly smooth sailing that year – he crashed at that year’s Roar test – Stroll did eventually finish fifth overall with co-drivers Alexander Wurz, Brendon Hartley, and Andy Priaulx.

Stroll enters this year’s Rolex 24 with Jackie Chan DC Racing, which operates in a partnership with JOTA Sport. Stroll is slated to partner Felix Rosenqvist, Daniel Juncadella, and Robin Frijns, with all four include on the entry list for the Roar.

Outside of Alonso and Stroll, there are other drivers currently aligned with Formula 1 teams who will appear at the Rolex 24, beginning with this weekend’s Roar. One is the aforementioned Lando Norris, a McLaren junior driver who recently claimed the FIA European Formula 3 championship along with being named McLaren’s test and reserve driver. Norris will share the No. 23 United Autosports entry with Alonso, as previously described.

Additionally, 2017 Williams test and reserve driver Paul Di Resta will also feature at the Rolex 24, in the sister United Autosports No. 32 entry, and is entered at the Roar entry list alongside Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, and Bruno Senna.

Of note, Di Resta is in for a busy January, as he will also be a part of the FIA Formula E rookie test next weekend in Marrakesh before returning to the U.S. for the Rolex 24.

The opening practice for this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 kicks off at 11:00 a.m. EST on Friday.


Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”