DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Roar Before the Rolex 24 — the annual test session preceding the prestigious Rolex 24 At Daytona that tips off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season — is witnessing an increase in the number of classes and number of entries participating this year.
The Jan. 22-24 event takes on added significance as well since it will be climaxed for the first time by a 100-minute qualifying race to set the grid for the Rolex 24 that starts six days later.
Fifty cars are entered and expected to participate in the Roar. In all, four practices, a qualifying session and a warm-up will be available to WeatherTech Championship competitors prior to the Motul Pole Award 100. The race to determine the starting grid rolls off at 2:05 p.m. Jan. 24.
The Roar was moved this year to the week prior to the Rolex 24 to lessen travel demands on teams and personnel. The Roar schedule also includes the season-opening race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge and test sessions for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Driver names are yet to be officially confirmed for the entry list, but here is a look at the cars and drivers who have been announced during the off-season.
In WeatherTech Championship action, the top-tier Daytona Prototype international class appears wide open with seven entries following a number of off-season moves. Acura Team Penske disbanded its program after winning the past two season championships. Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the past two Rolex 24s running a Cadillac, has switched to an Acura for the No. 10 Konica Minolta entry and brought on three drivers – Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi – who helped Penske win the 2020 championship title, as well as two-time Rolex 24 winner Filipe Albuquerque.
Chip Ganassi Racing returns to WeatherTech Championship action after sitting out a year, fielding a Cadillac DPi whose lineup includes two-time defending Rolex 24 DPi and overall winner Renger van der Zande and Formula 1 veteran Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen – who will co-drive the No. 01 machine for the full 2021 season alongside van der Zande – will make his public IMSA debut at the Roar.
Action Express Racing boasts a pair of star-studded DPi entries. Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr are back in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac and will be joined by endurance race stalwart Mike Conway and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. The No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing DPi features seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson, Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, international sports car standout Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi who, like van der Zande, won the Rolex 24 the last two years with Wayne Taylor Racing.
The Le Mans Prototype 2 class has seen its Roar entry list swell to 10 this year, including two ORECA LMP2 07s for DragonSpeed USA, the two-time defending Rolex 24 class champion. Ben Hanley returns to the No. 81 DragonSpeed entry to defend his 2020 victory, with three new teammates surrounding him.
The No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA is back on the LMP2 grid again after finishing second in last year’s Rolex 24 and going on to claim the season championship. Among the car’s drivers is endurance-race junkie Ben Keating, the Texan who will again pull double duty by also co-driving a TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. And don’t forget about Austin Dillon, the 2018 NASCAR Daytona 500 winner who’s scheduled to co-drive the No. 51 RWR-Eurasia Ligier LMP2.
Reigning GT Le Mans season champions Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor return to drive the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R in the Roar, along with endurance add-on Nicky Catsburg. On the No. 4 side of the Corvette team, Tommy Milner returns with a new cast of co-drivers in former Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy and ex-BMW factory racer Alexander Sims. But a Corvette hasn’t won the Rolex 24 since 2016.
That honor has gone most recently to BMW Team RLL, which has won its class the past two years at the Rolex. Three of the drivers from the victorious No. 24 BMW M8 GTE – John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus – are back to defend their 2020 Rolex win and are joined by Marco Wittman. The No. 25 BMW was the class winner two years ago, with Connor De Phillippi and Philipp Eng still forming half the driving quartet along with Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler.
Porsche, meanwhile, is returning to the GTLM class after all in 2021 with last week’s announcement of the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing 911 RSR-19 for drivers Cooper MacNeil, Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni.
Rounding out a solid GTLM field will be Risi Competizione, which returns at the Roar to prepare for Rolex 24 competition in the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE with a quartet of Ferrari factory pilots sharing the cockpit.
The GTD class is loaded this year, with 20 Roar entries encompassing nine manufacturers. Heading the list is Paul Miller Racing, which returns intact the driver lineup that won last year’s Rolex 24 (Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Corey Lewis and Andrea Caldarelli) – though the number on the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 has changed from 48 to 1.
John Potter, Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly finished second a year ago in the Rolex 24 in the No. 44, though the Magnus with Archangel entry is changing this season from running a Lamborghini to an Acura NSX GT3. The team added a not-so-secret weapon for the Roar and Rolex 24 in fourth driver Mario Farnbacher, the two-time reigning GTD season champion when he piloted an Acura for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian.