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.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.