Strange bedfellows in speed brings success at Rolex 24 Hours

Michael L. Levitt/LAT VIA IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They’re fierce rivals in the IndyCar Series, but this weekend they will be fast friends in the IMSA Series championship, sharing rides for the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Alexander Rossi, who drives for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar, will be driving a DPI for Acura Team Penske, which features three drivers (Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya) who have battled Rossi in the Indianapolis 500 over the past three years.

In the GTLM class, Chip Ganassi Racing will field one Ford for its defending IndyCar series champion Scott Dixon and another for Sebastien Bourdais, who competes against Ganassi in IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing.

So how exactly does this work?

ROLEX 24 COVERAGE: Full announcer lineup, NBCSN/NBC Sports App schedule

Well, it wouldn’t in every situation, according to Dixon, who revealed he once had a sports car option with an IndyCar rival that was quashed.

“It depends on the teams, really,” he said. “The Penske-Ganassi thing doesn’t work really. I was going to be doing that job, but I was told no.”

It has gone swimmingly for Penske with other teams’ IndyCar drivers, though.

Rossi took a spot on the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International that belonged at last year’s Rolex 24 to Graham Rahal, who was about a half-inch too tall to return to this year’s car.

Though they don’t cooperate in another series, Andretti (which fields Hondas in IndyCar) and Penske have a common tie through Acura that makes them allies in sports cars.

“Team Penske” is the team name, and the Acuras are built in the same Mooresville, N.C., facility as Penske’s NASCAR and IndyCar teams. But Penske’s IMSA program is viewed as a completely separate division by Rossi – and not as an IndyCar counterpart.

“I know it looks like that on paper, but at the end of the day, this is an Acura program,” Rossi said. “And there’s a lot of same people in the engineering truck that I’ve worked with in the past in Honda and IndyCar. So a lot of familiar faces from that standpoint.

“As far as actual day-to-day operations, Team Penske runs DPI as its own thing. It’s in a completely different area of the workshop from the IndyCar program. So it really doesn’t feel like much crossover. Which is great. I think that’s why it’s able to work as well as it does. But at the end of the day, this is an opportunity to develop my relationship and continue my relationship with Acura and Honda and make that stronger for the future. It’s a good opportunity to drive for a great team and hopefully win one of the big ones.”

The 2016 Indy 500 winner said he hardly talks with his Penske teammates about being strange bedfellows, but the communication has been constant and productive since Rossi joined the team last month.

With the Californian making his second start in the Rolex 24 and adapting to a DPI car for the first time, Castroneves can provide valuable advice on making the transition after moving to IMSA full time last year after a 20-season run in IndyCar.

“It’s so funny, Graham Rahal did a phenomenal job last year for us, and it’s amazing because these guys are special to me,” Castroneves said. “I raced them 20 years in IndyCar. Last year was the first year I wasn’t full time. All these guys you compete against, and you know them as your competitor, and all of a sudden they join forces and it’s, ‘Hmmm, what am I expecting?’

“Graham was amazing. We had a great time. Unfortunately, because he’s too big … he texted me and said, ‘I’m just not feeling comfortable.’ These cars are not easy to get in, well they went out there, found the second-tallest driver, which is Alex.”

Rossi quickly got up to speed in the Roar at the Rolex test sessions a few weeks ago, in part because of the insight gleaned in many Penske conference calls. Though he shares little in common with Castroneves (“We’re polar opposites of each other, which hopefully works well in a race car as teammates.”), Rossi has been amused by the Brazilian’s sense of humor.

“Helio’s great; it’s been really nice to have Helio and Ricky (Taylor) as teammates,” Rossi said. “They’ve been superwelcoming from Day 1 and me being an outsider, and not knowing much about endurance racing or how their program operates, they were willing to answer a lot of questions. We’ve been really good teammates from that standpoint and helping me get up to speed as quickly as possible.”

Said Castroneves: “I understand the incredible scenario (Rossi) is going through about the brakes, the turning, the power steering. All of a sudden, you’re driving a different car. I want him to be as comfortable as he can and quick as he can because it’s all about teamwork.”

Staying focused on that instead of the potential awkwardness of any IndyCar division is easy, Castroneves said, because “at the end of the day, we’re racers who want to win, not to be secret about what we’re doing. We’re hoping whoever we hired comes with the same mind and professional way so we can execute it.”

Castroneves said he was impressed by Rossi’s feedback at the test, noting he was “coming out of his shell a little bit” while adapting to working with drivers he usually races.

“You compete against these guys, and now you’re teaming up with those guys. The gloves are still a little bit halfway up, just in case! But now I hope he feels even more comfortable with us, and we can get the watch for all of us.”

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):


Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta


Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans