DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The wait may have been shorter than normal, but the anticipation is greater than ever as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship embarks on its 2021 season, beginning with its hallmark event, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Forty-nine entries filled with international racing stars – 49 of whom have at least one Rolex 24 overall or class win – are scheduled to compete in the world-renown, twice-around-the-clock sports car extravaganza on Jan. 30-31 that draws an international array of stars in one-off appearances to compete with the series regulars who can go wheel to wheel with anyone. It will come following a compressed offseason due to the 2020 WeatherTech Championship schedule stretching into November due to the coronavirus pandemic.
NBC Sports has complete flag-to-flag coverage of the event, beginning on NBC at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday (10 minutes before the green flag), moving to NBCSN for stints running from 4:30-8 p.m. Saturday, 11 p.m. Saturday-3 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, before NBC picks coverage back up from 2 p.m. to the race completion. The entire event, including those few hours not airing on NBC or NBCSN, will stream live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App.
New this year for the 59th Rolex 24 is a fifth competition class, Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), which has seven entries for its debut. Changes abound throughout all the classes, with alterations in driver and manufacturer alliances among teams, new teams entering the picture and old teams returning to compete. It all adds up to an unpredictable and wildly open competitive kickoff to the global motorsports season.
The Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class features some of the same stalwart organizations, a pair of teams returning to the class with past Rolex 24 victories, an all-star entry and more.
Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Racing car has won the last two Rolex 24s but has shifted gears in changing this year from a Cadillac DPi to the Acura ARX-05 DPi. Ricky Taylor, son of the team owner, has returned to the team fresh off the DPi championship he won last season in a Team Penske Acura with Helio Castroneves, who is on board the No. 10 Acura for the Rolex 24. The younger Taylor’s full-time teammate in 2021 is Filipe Albuquerque, a two-time Rolex 24 winner. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner who aided the Taylor/Castroneves run to the DPi title last year in the endurance races, is back in the same role with the No. 10.
The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac fell a point shy of the DPi championship in 2020 and returns Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani as full-time drivers to try and make the next step up that ladder in ’21. They’re joined at the Rolex 24 by endurance-race ace Mike Conway and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, making his WeatherTech Championship debut.
The sister car in the Action Express Racing stable is the No. 48 Ally Racing Cadillac DPi with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and longtime sports car standout Mike Rockenfeller at the wheel.
Chip Ganassi Racing – winner of the Rolex 24 eight times, including six overall – returns to the DPi ranks after running a GT Le Mans (GTLM) program from 2016-19 and sitting out entirely last year. The No. 01 CGR Cadillac has put together a stellar lineup with Renger van der Zande (winner of the Rolex 24 the last two years with WTR) and former Formula 1 driver Kevin Magnussen (son of F1 and IMSA great Jan Magnussen) as the full-timers, joined by six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian rejoins the DPi ranks with the No. 60 Acura after spending the past four seasons winning back-to-back GT Daytona (GTD) championships with an Acura NSX GT3. Dane Cameron, claimant of the 2019 DPi title in a Penske Acura, and Olivier Pla are the season-long drivers. Juan Pablo Montoya, twice the Indy 500 winner who shared the 2019 DPi crown with Cameron, is on call for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races. And no MSR entry would be complete without AJ Allmendinger, the NASCAR driver making his 15th Rolex 24 start for the team, includes the overall and prototype winner in 2012.
Fueled by a swell of international entries, the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class boasts 10 entries for the Rolex 24 – a race that counts toward the Michelin Endurance Cup but not the overall season championship. DragonSpeed USA is the defending winner twice over and has a pair of entries this year, including the No. 81 ORECA LMP2 07 with 2020 winner Ben Hanley among the driver lineup.
Other LMP2 entries of note include: the No. 11 WIN Autosport ORECA, with drivers including former Mazda DPi driver Tristan Nunez and 2020 IMSA Prototype Challenge champion Matthew Bell; the No. 20 High Class Racing ORECA that includes F1 driver Robert Kubica; the No. 51 RWR-Eurasia Ligier LMP2 that lists 2018 NASCAR Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon among its drivers; and the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA that won four of the six LMP2 races after the 2020 Rolex 24 and the class team title.
The new LMP3 class provides the opportunity to compete in the next-generation cars in the class that have competed most recently in the Prototype Challenge. Some teams, in fact, will race in both series this year. As in LMP2, points earned in LMP3 at the Rolex 24 count only toward the Michelin Endurance Cup standings, with a six-race championship commencing at Sebring in March.
Among the LMP3 entries to watch are: the No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier JS P320, with four-time Rolex 24 winner Joao Barbosa in the lineup; CORE autosport’s No. 54 Ligier with two-time WeatherTech Championship champion Matt McMurry (LMP2 in 2019, GTD in 2020), as well as past Rolex 24 winners Colin Braun and Jonathan Bennett on board; a pair of Riley Motorsports Ligier entries, including the No. 74 with former Mazda DPi endurance driver Spencer Pigot and recent IndyCar rookie Oliver Askew among its quartet; and the No. 7 Forty7 Motorsports Duqueine M30-D08 which includes reigning IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Touring Car (TCR) champions Ryan Norman and Gabby Chaves as its drivers.
BMW Team RLL is back aiming for a third consecutive Rolex 24 win in GTLM. John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus were part of last year’s triumph in the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE, joined this year by Marco Wittman. The No. 25 BMW was class winner in 2019 and has Connor De Phillippi and Philipp Eng back from that win (Farfus was also part of the 2019 winner).
Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia drove away with the GTLM season championship last year and will be a force again in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R, with Nicky Castburg filling out the Rolex 24 lineup. Meanwhile, the No. 4 Corvette has Tommy Milner back, with ex-Porsche standout Nick Tandy and former BMW driver Alexander Sims alongside.
Porsche’s GTLM presence remains with the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19, driven at the Rolex 24 by Cooper MacNeil, two-time Rolex 24 winner Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Kevin Estre. And Risi Competizione brings back its No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE for the Rolex 24, guided by Italians Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon, Frenchman Jules Gounon and Brit James Calado.
The competition level in GTD is at its best with 19 Rolex 24 entries, led by defending race winner Paul Miller Racing. Usually the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, the team will run as the No. 1 for the Rolex 24 to signify its 2020 class win, but that’s the only thing that’s changed. The driver lineup returns intact with Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis and Andrea Caldarelli.
They’ll face plenty of stiff competition, however. The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports “Plaid Porsche” includes 2019 GTLM champion Laurens Vanthoor in its lineup. His former co-driver in the GTLM Porsche, Earl Bamber, is co-owner and co-driver of the No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche. Bamber’s team just added Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen to its lineup for the Rolex 24.
Yet another Porsche 911 GT3R to keep an eye on is the No. 16 Wright Motorsports entry that won the 2020 season finale, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, and finished two points shy of the GTD championship. Ryan Hardwick, Patrick Long and Jan Heylen are back from that effort, with Klaus Bachler providing assistance as the fourth driver for this year’s Rolex 24.
Vasser Sullivan Racing brings back its two-car Lexus RC F GT3 effort. Full-timers Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz, in the No. 12 Lexus, are joined at the Rolex 24 by past Corvette great Oliver Gavin and newbie Kyle Kirkwood.
Magnus with Archangel takes over the Acura GTD banner following Meyer Shank’s move to DPi, with Andy Lally – the active leader in Rolex 24 victories with five – and two-time Rolex 24 winner John Potter in the full-time role, joined at the Rolex 24 by Mario Farnbacher (two-time reigning GTD champion in an MSR Acura) and Spencer Pumpelly.
And never overlook all-time IMSA wins leader Bill Auberlen, who will anchor the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 with co-drivers Robby Foley and Aidan Read.
Rolex 24 action begin with practices on Thursday (11:05 a.m., 3:20 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.) and Friday (11:20 a.m.). All the week’s action, including the race, is available on IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and Sirius/XM Radio.