For 12 IndyCar drivers in field, the Rolex 24 will be ‘like having an NFL preseason game’


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The green flag will fall in Florida on the NTT IndyCar Series season again, just as it had for nine consecutive seasons until the pandemic disrupted the past two.

But even though the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is on the pole position of this year’s schedule (after openers at Texas in 2020 and Barber in ‘21), another race in the Sunshine State will offer a de-facto preseason race for IndyCar.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona will feature a whopping dozen full-time drivers from IndyCar, comprising nearly half of the starting grid that is expected at St. Pete next month.

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And the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener probably could have featured nearly the entire IndyCar field if supply had met demand.

Though the championship-contending outfits of Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing (with all four drivers) are well-represented, Team Penske will have no entries (aside from Austin Cindric, the lone full-time NASCAR Cup driver in the field) – and not for lack of trying.

IndyCar on NBC analyst Townsend Bell (who will be racing in his 10th Rolex 24) noted that Scott McLaughlin and Will Power (who has wanted to run the Rolex 24 for years) both had been disappointed they were unable to land rides for the endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway.

“Realizing how badly IndyCar drivers that aren’t part of that field want to be in this race was really interesting,” Bell told NBC Sports. “They were saying it’s almost harder to get into this race than it is an IndyCar ride.”

Indy 500 winners Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves will be Meyer Shank Racing teammates in the 2022 NTT IndyCar season as well as on the team’s No. 60 Acura for the Rolex 24 at Daytona (IMSA).

That’s despite a car count that has risen by 12 entries (meaning at least three dozen more seats) for the 2022 Rolex 24. With seven IndyCar drivers scattered across five of the seven DPi entries (as well as four more in LMP2), there’s a good chance another IndyCar driver will leave with a prized Rolex from a class victory – just as Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves did last year with Wayne Taylor Racing.

But the real value will be the experience, especially given IndyCar’s heavily restricted offseason testing policy. Many drivers will have only one test at Sebring in the five-month layoff between last year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach finale and 2022’s kickoff at St. Pete.

“I think the great thing about being able to compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona as an IndyCar driver is you get to race in January going into the season opener in February,” Rossi, who returns with a WTR team hunting a record fourth consecutive Rolex 24 win, told NBC Sports. “The cars are pretty different. There’s not a whole lot of crossover in terms of driving technique and the way you go about it. But you’re race sharp, you’re race ready.

“So when we go into Turn 1 at St. Pete, other guys have been out of the car since September. There’s going to be an advantage to that.”

Andretti teammate Colton Herta said having consecutive weekends of practice, qualifying and racing on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course essentially serves as a de-facto warmup, especially for the 11 IndyCar drivers who will be in the high-downforce prototype cars that some have described as an Indy car with fenders.

“It knocks the rust off for us,” Herta told NBC Sports. “We can kind of get into the flow of things, and quite slowly if we need to, just because we have the Roar (test session) and a mock qualifying race and then another weekend of racing and practicing going into the race. It’s plenty of time to get back into the flow of things and feel the car.”

Said Sebastien Bourdais, who left IndyCar for a full-time IMSA ride this year with Ganassi: “I think we’re all racers, so that’s the first draw to doing this. There’s very, very limited testing prior to the season opener at St. Pete. Any miles you can log in the car and sharpen your skills, there’s no shortage of that obviously at Daytona. You’re running at night, sometimes in the rain with very difficult conditions, and that always tends to sharpen your skills. And I think for everybody that’s the benefit on top of obviously we’re just racing freaks and love racing cars and driving in general.”

As he shifts to full-time IndyCar in 2022, Jimmie Johnson is back in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, which finished second in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona (IMSA).

Jimmie Johnson will be racing the No. 48 Ally Cadillac for Action Express in his second consecutive Rolex 24 before his first full season in IndyCar — and also will be driving the other three IMSA endurance races for the second consecutive year. Though the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion enjoys IMSA road racing, the extra laps have helped prepare him for driving a high-downforce vehicle with some of the same techniques as IndyCar.

“I asked Jimmie about what he does to prepare for his first full season in IndyCar, and he said, ‘The best thing I do is drive the prototype,’ ” Bell said. “I think for IndyCar drivers, getting in a prototype is most desired because the braking dynamics are very similar to IndyCar, and as limited as the IndyCar testing is now, any track time in any sort of real racing environment has got to help. The racecraft, working with the team, having the adrenal levels high, which you don’t get in any kind of training that you do. There’s nothing like what you get from pure competition, so given those testing restrictions, if I was a full-time IndyCar driver again, I’d want to be (in the Rolex 24) for that very reason.

“There’s no better way to prime yourself than this is like having an NFL preseason game for the IndyCar drivers is probably how they look at it.”

Though he will be the only IndyCar driver racing in the more production-based GT class, Kyle Kirkwood still views his time in the Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 as a needed primer heading into his rookie IndyCar season with A.J. Foyt Racing.

“It is a good warmup because there’s a long off period where you’re not in race mode but test mode,” said the 2021 Indy Lights champion, who has been allowed offseason tests at Indianapolis, Sebring and Barber as an incoming freshman. “It’s nice to get back into the rhythm of racing and being in this environment. There’s a lot I can learn from this race. We’ve got three drivers; everything has to be consistent. There’s a lot of fuel and tire saving and pit stop strategies are super important to learn, because that’s something you don’t get in junior formulas.

“Just getting in the racing mindset. I feel like almost all drivers just build on top of just being in the environment as the year goes on, so starting it off earlier and trying to get a little bit of a head start is super important. I don’t think it matters going from the GT vs. the DPi. There’s maybe a physical aspect that might be better in DPi, but I personally like driving the GT car, because you have to be super precise, and the consequences are much bigger in a big, heavy GT car than they are in an Indy car.”

The LMP2 division will feature much of IndyCar’s 20something star brigade. Pato O’Ward will join Andretti drivers Herta and Devlin DeFrancesco in the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA. Rinus VeeKay will be in the No. 29 for Racing Team Nederland.

The Rolex 24 will be an opportunity to build camaraderie for other teams. Before their first season as full-time teammates at Meyer Shank Racing, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will share the No. 60 Acura at Daytona.

Ganassi has three IndyCar drivers in its two Cadillacs — defending IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou and six-time champion Scott Dixon in the No. 01 and Marcus Ericsson in the No. 02 lineup.

Daytona will mark the sports car endurance debuts for Palou and Ericsson, who again will lean on the wisdom of Dixon, who has started the past 18 Rolex 24s and has four victories (three overall).

“It’s always good if you can get seat time, and unfortunately with our offseasons and the way the testing rules on the IndyCar side have transpired, it’s really hard,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “I think for all of us, we’re drivers. What we want to do is drive. So to be able to do this and be able to keep it in house, which is always a favorite for us. Especially with such a successful team as well, you know you’ve got a great shot at trying to win the race.”

Ericsson has been targeting a Rolex 24 ride since leaving Formula One for IndyCar three years ago.

“It’s a prestigious race and perfect way to get the season started,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “It’s been tough because I last raced in Long Beach in September and haven’t been in the race car since then. So this Daytona experience is going to be very, very good for my season to get going after the holiday and the offseason.”

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
Align Media

Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury