The Firestone Grand Prix will take place in St. Petersburg in March. As we get ready for the races, IndyCar competitors are getting ready, too.
An IndyCar Series competitor has co-driven the winning overall entry in the Rolex 24 At Daytona the past three years and five of the past 10. In 2013, series drivers swept the podium, with Charlie Kimball (first), Ryan Hunter-Reay (second) and Justin Wilson (third).
More than a dozen IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy drivers will compete in the 52nd race this weekend on the 3.56-mile circuit at Daytona International Speedway, including reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and 2012 series champion Hunter-Reay.
The diversity of the 18-race IndyCar Series schedule, which commences March 30 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is reflective of drivers’ skills and talents. To be crowned the champion requires consistently high finishes on the variety of street and road courses, short ovals and superspeedways.
“The (Rolex 24) lineup of drivers has evolved over the years,” said Dixon, who co-drove the winning entry in 2006. “When I first started in ‘04, I might have been one of the few IndyCar Series drivers that did the 24. The last four or five years there’s been more of a mix of INDYCAR drivers going over, which is good for both series.
“It doesn’t relate to what we’re doing in INDYCAR, but any seat time does help. It’s a great way to start the year and really shows the all-around skills of IndyCar (Series) drivers.”
Wilson co-drove the winning car in 2012, while Graham Rahal was a member of the 2011 winning team. Both are entered this year, with Wilson rejoining Michael Shank Racing in its prototype car and Rahal competing for BMW Team RLL in the GT Le Mans sports car category.
Rahal, who won the event 30 years after his father’s victory, said winning the race is a career highlight.
“To be an ultimate driver, to be one of the greats, you need to be a part of races like this,” said Rahal, who enters his second IndyCar Series season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “If I look at a guy like Scott Dixon, where he separates himself from others is not only is he incredibly quick in an IndyCar but you get him in a sports car and he’s instantly the quickest of all those guys, too.”
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 winner of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, will join Dixon in co-driving the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car in the Prototype category. Simon Pagenaud, who finished third in the IndyCar Series championship standings last year, will make his second start in the race.
Other IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy drivers from 2013 and confirmed for 2014 competing:
• Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais
• James Hinchcliffe, who won three races in 2013
• Ryan Briscoe, who has seven IndyCar Series victories and returns to Chip Ganassi Racing full time in 2014
• Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, who will drive the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car in his rookie season
• Sage Karam, the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights champion, making his 24-hour race debut with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
• Tristan Vautier, the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year
• Conor Daly, a Firestone Indy Lights winner who made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2013
• Alex Tagliani, who competed for Barracuda Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013
• James Davison, a Firestone Indy Lights winner who made his IndyCar Series debut in 2013
• AJ Allmendinger, who competed in six races for Team Penske
• Townsend Bell, an NBCSN announcer who made his seventh Indianapolis 500 start in 2013
• Gabby Chaves, the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights championship runner-up
• Katherine Legge, who made her second Indianapolis 500 start in 2013
In the past decade, IndyCar Series drivers who have won the 24-hour race:
2006 – Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon
2008 – Dario Franchitti
2009 – Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner
2011 – Graham Rahal
2012 – Justin Wilson
2013 – Charlie Kimball
For more on this story, please visit indycar.com.