IndyCar stars Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward set as Rolex 24 teammates in DragonSpeed LMP2

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Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, two of the NTT IndyCar Series brightest young stars, will be entering the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona as teammates in the LMP2 division.

Herta and O’Ward will be paired with Devlin DeFrancesco (who will be an IndyCar rookie with Herta at Andretti Autosport next season) and Eric Lux for DragonSpeed’s No. 81. DeFrancesco will make his fourth LMP2 start at Daytona, and Lux, the team’s bronze-rated driver, will be attempting his 12th Rolex 24 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series season opener Jan. 29-30 (which will be broadcast by NBC Sports).

O’Ward, 22, will be making his third start in the Rolex 24 but first since 2018, having won the LMPC class as a rookie in ’17.

“I’m so pumped for this,” O’Ward said during a Zoom news conference Wednesday. “I just think it’s so exciting. It’s such a good way to start off the season. DragonSpeed has their own record of being so competitive. I know they’re going to give us the tools to challenge for a Rolex. And great driver lineup. I couldn’t have thought of a better one to try and accomplish this. So I think we’re in good hands.

“Just really looking forward to having fun and truly enjoying everything.”

This will be the fourth consecutive Rolex 24 start for Herta, 21, but his first in a prototype. He was part of the GTLM-winning entry of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with the BMW M8 GTE in 2019. In addition to being an Indy Lights teammate with O’Ward at Andretti in 2018, Herta also raced against him and DeFrancesco in the junior ranks.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun racing with Devlin, Pato and Eric,” Herta said. “The last time that we were all racing against each other would have been back in go karts around 2011-12. And it’s cool to see us come this far and be teammates in this effort. I’m really looking forward to it. DragonSpeed has shown numerous times that they can put a really good car together for a 24-hour race, so I’m excited about that. We have a really good driver lineup, so it’s going to be super cool, and I’m really excited about it.”

DragonSpeed won the LMP2 division at the Rolex 24 in 2019-20 and finished third at Daytona last season. The team won the LMP2 Pro-Am division at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021.

“This gives our streak of attracting the best driving talent to DragonSpeed another massive bump,” Elton Julian, the team principal for DragonSpeed, said in a release. “We already know how well Eric and Devlin can perform with us at Daytona from last year, and adding two of IndyCar’s brightest stars to our 2022 squad makes our prospects even more exciting. I can’t help but think it’s too bad we couldn’t secure a DPi for this race, as this lineup clearly deserves one. We certainly tried!

“Most of our LMP2 rivals are capable of delivering a fast, efficient, and reliable run. We aim to do the same and give our all-stars – all with plenty of Daytona experience – the platform they need to make the difference.”

O’Ward and Herta both won multiple races in the NTT IndyCar Series last year. O’Ward broke for his first career victory at Texas Motor Speedway with Arrow McLaren SP, and Herta tied for the series lead with three victories, including the final two at Laguna Seca and Long Beach.

DeFrancesco, 21, was the Indy Lights rookie of the year last season.

“The Rolex 24 is always an awesome way to kick off the racing season, and I’m really looking forward to returning in 2022 with DragonSpeed and having my old friends Pato and Colton as part of the package,” DeFrancesco said in a release. “I have a big season ahead stepping into IndyCarbut I always find Daytona an energizing start to the year. I expect that will be even more so this January sharing the experience with Colton and Pato! I really enjoyed driving with Elton and the team last year and to return with this line-up in 2022 is just brilliant.”

The Rolex 24 car will be sponsored by Kimoa, the clothing and accessories brand founded by two-time F1 champion and 2019 Rolex 24 winner Fernando Alonso.

The No. 81 LMP2 for the 60th Rolex 24 (DragonSpeed)

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.