New era of Roar and Rolex 24 dawns at Daytona with major track time for teams


The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s nearly two-week residence in Florida has begun, but there hardly will be time in the new schedule for soaking in the sand and sun as the Roar and Rolex 24 at Daytona contenders spend several days thrashing on sports cars at the World Center of Racing.

Beginning with a one-hour session at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Daytona International Speedway, IMSA teams will be on track for seven of the next 10 days, concluding with the 59th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This weekend will serve as the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, and it will be capped by the Motul 100, a 100-minute qualifying race that will set the starting grid in the IMSA season opener for the first time.

The Roar typically has been held during the first week of January, which allowed for teams to spend a few weeks optimizing their cars (while IMSA officials considered reigning them in via aerodynamic, horsepower and weight adjustments). Now they will have only three days before being back on track Thursday for the first Rolex 24 practice.

HOW AND WHEN TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, more

The much tighter turnaround already has impacted preparations for teams, which likely will keep their crews and drivers in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area in a quasi-sports car version of NASCAR Speedweeks (which traditionally has parked Cup Series teams in Daytona for nearly two weeks every February in the run-up to the Daytona 500).

Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, said the DPi team spent the first two weeks of January bulking up its inventory of spares and backup equipment. Action Express has added a Rolex 24 entry this year with the addition of Jimmie Johnson as part of an “all-star car” (along with Chase Elliott in its full-time championship entry).

“If you have any trouble in the Roar, you don’t have a lot of recovery time,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “I think it’s better to have the Roar later in the month. I always pride our team on being ready for anything. That’s an opportunity I like when others might not be as well prepared. It’s hard to find advantages in racing nowadays. So preparation is one you can sometimes use as an advantage if you’re more prepared than your competitors. That’s kind of the approach we’re taking.”

Nelson said the team would spend Monday through Wednesday swapping out engine, gearbox and brake parts to freshen up the cars for the 24-hour main event after the Motul 100.

“Your parts and equipment better be pretty close to new throughout the car because some things are mileaged-out after a 24-hour race,” Nelson said. “So you don’t want to start the race with a couple of hours on all your parts, and now at the end of the race you have 26- or 27-hour parts based on how much practice you did and the qualifying race, so we’re going to be starting the Roar with some parts that we probably wouldn’t be starting the 24-hour race.”

With virtually nonstop work to complete (especially those switching manufacturers such as two-time defending Rolex 24 champion Wayne Taylor Racing’s move to Acura from Cadillac), teams also will be able to stay preoccupied. That could be another side benefit of the new Roar, which was moved in part to help ease traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic for the many international team members in the IMSA paddock.

“The key is to stay disciplined, you’re going to be around that garage area for 10 days and staying within your own bubble, not letting your guard down literally and figuratively,” NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish said in a preview of the Rolex 24 (video above). “Because you’ve got to stay safe and get to that Rolex 24 and be healthy and ready to start.

“For some of these teams are used to going back home, Wayne Taylor Racing or Meyer Shank Racing they no longer have two weeks to digest the data at Roar and put changes in place. Dealing with being back on track four days later, goodness forbid if you should have accident damage. These transporters are like rolling workshops, but being out in the field there, if you have to fix anything, it’s going to be a tough week for all these teams to get through.”

But it could be advantageous for drivers adjusting to Florida weather. NBC Sports analyst Townsend Bell, who will be driving for Vasser Sullivan in the GTD division, will be staying in the Daytona area instead of commuting from his Southern California home.

“I look forward to not having to get readjusted to the time zone,” Bell said. “I can train in the heat and get fully acclimated. You want to go into the 24 Hours with as much of a head start on body as you can get. That’s the key because it’s such a taxing exercise to do 24 hours.”

Drivers also will have plenty of reps behind the wheel with several hours spread over eight days before the Rolex 24 green flag.

For IndyCar drivers such as Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves (who both were testing with Wayne Taylor Racing in Sebring this week), the schedule lays out not unlike the May buildup to the Indianapolis 500.”

“That’s one way to look at it for sure,” Rossi said. “ I’m just excited to be driving race cars, and I’m excited to go try to win races. That’s really all that’s on my mind these days, and I’m doing whatever I can to contribute to this four-driver effort to give us the best chance of doing that is my main focus.”

Said Castroneves: “It’s the best way for us to come back from the holidays and time. We can only do so much in the gym and the bicycle and things like that. But the real deal is when you get behind the wheel. Nothing compares. There’s no other training you can do to be in the car you’re going to be racing. It’s great we have (the Roar and Rolex 24) back to back. This absolutely helps everyone to get the rhythm back and faster.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)