The Roar Before the Rolex 24 annually puts an attractive spin on the label “test session” with champions of major races and major series joining International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) sports car regulars to form a most illustrious field preparing for the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, the season-opening event for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The spin is in, again. Driver lineups for the 40 WeatherTech Championship teams gathered at Daytona International Speedway for the three-day Roar (Friday through Sunday) include reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and six former Indianapolis 500 champions – reigning champ Simon Pagenaud plus Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi.
Also testing this weekend are teams in the production-based IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge that will start its season Jan. 24 on the famed 3.56-mile speedway road course with the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge. NASCAR flavor is evident there, too, with young stars Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Hailie Deegan entered. Appropriately, they’re driving Ford Mustangs.
On Friday, though, it was Busch commanding considerable attention. After all, he’s only two months removed from winning the NASCAR Cup Series title for the second time. He’ll co-drive a Lexus RC-F GT3 for AIM VASSER SULLIVAN Racing in his first Rolex 24 At DAYTONA appearance, competing in the GT Daytona (GTD) class for production-based cars.
“I had been asked by Toyota and Lexus to come out here and run their car and I politely declined the first couple of times … this opportunity presented itself [again] to have some fun, put myself in the Lexus and participate in the Rolex 24,” Busch said.
Busch has one previous sports car experience at Daytona to his credit. In July 2009 he co-drove a Lexus prototype in the Brumos Porsche 250, finishing 10th. “I was slow,” Busch recalled, “so I’m looking forward to hopefully being a little bit faster this time around. I’m getting great help from the team; everybody at AIM VASSER SULLIVAN Racing is making me feel part of the team, getting accustomed.”
Busch’s team had the fastest GTD time in the first Rolex 24 practice session on Friday. His co-driver Jack Hawksworth was in the car for the fastest lap of 1:47.031 (119.735 mph). The fastest time overall was posted by Harry Tincknell in a Mazda prototype in the headlining Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, at 1:36.027 (133.456).
The Roar resumes Saturday morning at 8:45 with qualifying for the IMSA Prototype Challenge At DAYTONA, a three-hour race that takes the green flag at 12:15 p.m. Qualifying for the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA is divided across the next two days. On Saturday from 4:15-4:55 p.m., qualifying for the GTD and LMP2 classes will be held. The DPi and GT Le Mans (GTLM) classes qualify on Sunday from 11:50 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Tickets for The Roar Before the Rolex 24, the 58th Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, the 62nd annual DAYTONA 500 and other Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest speedway news throughout the season.