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EMBURY: IndyCar Stars Who Have Conquered The Rolex 24

The wheels are not exposed and the cars feature roofs, yet many veterans of the Verizon IndyCar Series have taken well to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. And while proving road racing savvy is not limited to one series of competition, a few big names of the current or recent fulltime fleet have managed to put a Rolex Chronometer on their wrists as an overall champion.

The biggest benefactors to this over the last decade have been drivers associated with Chip Ganassi Racing, who have achieved similar success in sports car racing as they have over the years in IndyCar competition. Former IndyCar veteran and 1995 Michigan 500 winner Scott Pruett has won the Rolex 24 overall on five occasions, four coming with Ganassi. With the larger than normal driving teams at Daytona sometimes requiring as many as five different pilots for one car, the former driver and current team boss has often opened the door to his drivers from both his IndyCar and NASCAR operations to participate in the famous endurance race and several have made the most of the opportunity.

The most successful of those one-off runners is two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia, who has reached the top step of the podium in the Rolex 24 at Daytona three times.  Multi-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has collected two overall wins at Daytona, while current teammate Tony Kanaan paired up with Dixon to the race in 2015, while Charlie Kimball teamed up with Pruett to earn first place in 2013. In addition to the three members of the four drivers currently featured on Ganassi’s fulltime openwheel racing team, former team members Graham Rahal, Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon have also tasted success at the Rolex 24.

Of course, IndyCar drivers succeeding at Daytona, have not been limited to Chip Ganassi Racing, however. For instance, current Dale Coyne Racing team member Sebastien Bourdais joined forces with former Newman Haas Racing pilot Christian Fittipaldi to win the race for Action Express Racing in 2014. Reigning Rolex 24 at Daytona champion Scott Sharp, won the inaugural Indy Racing League title in 1996 and won the pole position for the 2001 Indianapolis 5oo. Also, 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice won at Daytona in 2009 as part of the famed Brumos Racing team.

In addition to the above listed names, since 1990 fellow Indy 500 veterans Davy Jones, P.J. Jones, Mark Dismore, Rocky Moran, John Paul, Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Didier Theys, Chris Kniefel, Johnny O’Connell, Max Papis, A.J. Allmendinger, and the late Justin Wilson have also won the overall race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Among those veterans, the efforts from Luyendyk, Theys, and Papis stand out the most in the history of the twice around the clock challenge. Luyendyk and Theys made up half of the driving quartet that delivered longtime driver and entrant Dr. Gianpiero Moretti his first and only Daytona triumph in 1998, after the Ferrari runner had come close earlier in the 1990s on several occasions. Papis teamed up with Theys to win the race in 2002; however, the Italian may be more remembered for his late race surge to within a lap of the overall win over the final three hours of the event in 1996.

Although the chances of another current IndyCar driver claiming overall victory in 2017 appears limited at this point, there could be plenty of action in the lower grand touring classes. Paul Gentilozzi’s new GT Daytona class Lexus team will feature Pruett, three-time Indy 500 starter Sage Karam, and former A.J. Foyt Racing driver Jack Hawksworth. Michael Shank Racing’s new Acura NSXs will have current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay behind the wheel, while Scott Dixon will team up with 2012 Indy 500 pole sitter Ryan Briscoe in a Ford GT for Chip Ganassi in the GT Le Mans class.

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By Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory.

Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.