Helio Castroneves recalls ‘Days of Thunder’ moment to win the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In the movie remake of Meyer Shank Racing’s victory in the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Helio Castroneves is Cole Trickle, and Simon Pagenaud is his Harry Hyde.

Castroneves, the four-time Indy 500 winner, was leading on the final lap entering the Le Mans Chicane on the backstretch when Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor collided directly in front while battling for the GTD Pro lead.

“It was a huge cloud of smoke and a huge moment,” Castroneves told NBC Sports. “It was just like ‘Days of Thunder’ when the guy went through the smoke and could see nothing. It was exactly like that. But thank god, when I came out, there was one car on one side, and the other car was on another, I was able to downshift, kept going and finish the lap.”

Fending off former teammate Ricky Taylor in hot pursuit, Castroneves closed out his second consecutive Rolex 24 victory and celebrated with a fence climb that he and the team largely credited to Pagenaud, his IndyCar teammate who played the part of a grizzled NASCAR crew chief-style whisperer in the closing laps by relying on his sports car wisdom to coach Castroneves in anticipation of the GTD Pro battle.

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As he nervously watched Jaminet and Vanthoor furiously bang fenders, Pagenaud realized that the No. 60 Acura driven by Castroneves would catch the jousting Porsches while entering the “Bus Stop,” the nickname for the backstretch chicane that is the trickiest section of the Daytona International Speedway.

Simon Pagenaud kisses his first winning Rolex (Chris du Mond/IMSA).

“I remember being extremely stressed out, probably more than I’ve ever been in racing just because I have finished second in every big endurance race in my life,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “I told the team to let Helio know what’s happening ahead so he doesn’t misunderstand the battle and can judge it properly. Fortunately, for us, Helio judged it perfectly. The two Porsches went off track, and he managed and still stayed in the lead.

“That will stay with me a long time because it was a high level of stress, but the team was open-minded enough to listen and allow me to relay that message to Helio, which is very unusual on a team at this level of stress at the end of a race.”

Said Castroneves: “It was incredible that Simon was the one spotting the fight. He told the spotter to make sure they were letting me know and being aware. And I’m glad they did because I started backing off even with Ricky on my tail. The most difficult scenario was not being able to see it.”

The victory was the second in the Rolex 24 for Mike Shank (who also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves), and it validated the team owner’s decision to hire Castroneves and Pagenaud as his new full-time IndyCar drivers. Eight months later, MSR capped the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with its first title in the premier prototype category.

Shank said he loves pulling up YouTube to rewatch the Rolex 24 victory, which also featured a rebound from a punctured right rear tire that Castroneves calmly nursed to the pits for repairs.

“It makes me think about all the times when I don’t think our team got respect for as good as we were,” Shank told NBC Sports. “I think about those times, and it feels like redemption, and I love that. Because in a lot of people’s mind, we’re still the small team that can and all this stuff that I really get tired of (hearing).

“We’re not a small team anymore, and we’ve won some of the biggest races in the world, and I can bank our results against anyone. But it’s taken a long time to get that, so it makes me think how far we’ve come and how proud I am of the people who have been at MSR for some of them 25-26 years, what we’ve all done together.”

Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud (from left to right) celebrate their victory in the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona (Brett Farmer/IMSA).

Despite the switch to a new hybrid engine in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype category, MSR is off to a strong start in its title defense. Tom Blomqvist put the No. 60 on pole position for the 61st Rolex 24, which begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.

The team also has added Colin Braun, a three-time Rolex 24 class winner, to team full time with Blomqvist for a run at the championship. Just as they will in IndyCar as MSR teammates for the second consecutive year, Castroneves and Pagenaud return for MSR at Daytona to provide support both behind the wheel and on the pit box.

“When you’re on the bench, that’s what is really cruel about sports car racing,” Pagenaud said. “And what I’m not used to on the IndyCar side because I’m always in the fire of the action. In sports cars, you tend to put yourself in the car and in the head of the driver and at that moment when I calculated Helio was going to meet them in the Bus Stop, and if I’m Jaminet or Vanthoor, I’m not thinking of anybody else than me winning the race. So they don’t know it’s coming. There’s no way they even think of it.

“For me it was very important for me to relay that message, but I knew that Helio was going to judge it right because he’s got that Brazilian magic in these moments.”

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

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Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”