After being forced to miss the 2016 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona whilst recovering from near-fatal injuries suffered in an accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Verizon IndyCar Series veteran James Hinchcliffe will make his return to the twice around the clock sports car classic later this month.
Hinchcliffe, who made a triumphant return to IndyCar action by winning the pole position for the 100th Indianapolis 500 last May, will look to achieve similar status as he rejoins SpeedSource-Mazda Motorsports, with whom he participated at Daytona two years ago.
Things, of course, have changed greatly for the Sylvain Tremblay-run squad since Hinch’s last effort. For instance, the team has abandoned its popular SkyActiv diesel engine, for a more racing friendly four-cylinder, turbocharged powerplant. Also for new regulations, the team will enter a brand new prototype for 2017. The car is designed by Riley Technologies and is badged as a Mazda RT24-P. The team will look to capture Mazda’s first Prototype victory at Daytona since long-time supporter Jim Downing won the class in 2001.
“It’s great to be back behind the wheel at Daytona,” Hinchcliffe said. “It sucked sitting out last year’s race, but my focus at the time was getting myself back in shape for the IndyCar season.
“Coming back to Mazda and SpeedSource, where I’ve done all of my races at Daytona,is like coming home and I can’t thank Sylvain enough for the chance.”
Hinch will be one of two IndyCar-based drivers in the SpeedSource-Mazda camp at the World Center of Racing. For the second straight year, 2015 Firestone Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will also be a member of the six-driver, two-car lineup.
In addition to Hinchcliffe and Pigot, two other former IndyCar pilots also have recently agreed to rides for the event.
Joining the Mazda duo in the headliner Prototype division will be RC Enerson, who will drive a Gibson-powered Ligier for Bobby Oergel’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports operation, while 2004 Indy 500 champion and 2009 Rolex 24 overall winner Buddy Rice has signed with Brian Adler’s BAR 1 Motorsports squad to participate in the Prototype Challenge class. 2017 will mark the final year PC cars will compete at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
All four drivers will be present this weekend at the 3.56-mile combination tri-oval and infield road course at the Daytona International Speedway starting this Friday for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 open tests, which run through Sunday. The three-day meet represents the last on-track opportunity for teams prior to race weekend.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.