DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — If it wasn't a 24-hour endurance race, some might be ready to hand the trophy to either of the Cadillac teams.
The Cadillacs of Action Express Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing have been fastest in every practice session ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, a twice-round-the-clock endurance race that begins Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. The Cadillacs have been so consistent that reigning IMSA sports car champion Pipo Derani put the No. 31 Cadillac on the pole, with Ganassi's car scheduled to start alongside it on the front row.
“The Cadillacs sure have seemed strong all weekend, doesn't matter what time of day it is, what the weather is,” said Jordan Taylor, who this year returned to drive for his father's team, Wayne Taylor Racing, in the top Grand Touring Prototype class.
“BMW seems a little bit more peaky, they can do an outright lap time but maybe their long run isn't as good. It's hard to say about the Porsches, they seem to be flying under the radar, but in control of what they are doing. Everyone seems strong in their own right, and as always, it will be a race of attrition.”
There are 59 sports cars entered in the race across four classes and the competition includes 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button, six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and 14 other IndyCar drivers, four Indianapolis 500 winners, and Felipe Massa, who is working with lawyers to prove he was robbed of the 2008 F1 championship.
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport said late Friday it was bringing in IndyCar driver Pietro Fittipaldi, most recently the reserve driver for Haas F1, as a replacement after Clément Novalak suffered leg and hip injuries in a pit lane incident in the final practice session.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for the team and Clément; they have been doing a great job preparing," Fittipaldi said. “I got the call from the team asking me to jump in at the last minute at Daytona, and I’ll be straight into green flag racing. Fortunately, I have experience with this car, and I did the 24 hours last year. It’s not going to be an easy task, but I am looking forward to the challenge.”
But in the all-important top class, Team Penske has two Porsches in its attempt to win Roger Penske his first overall title since 1969.
“We know how much Roger wants to win this race,” said driver Felipe Nasr. “Nobody needs to be reminded.”
Wayne Taylor Racing has expanded to a pair of Acuras and split his sons, Ricky and Jordan, among the cars.
“It's just better that way, if one car does better than the other, nobody can accuse us of favoring one car over the other,” Ricky Taylor said. “And it helps with split strategies and data collection. If one of us can't win, we are always rooting for the other.”
BMW M Team RLL also has two entries.
Meyer Shank Racing, the two-time defending Rolex champion, is not here this year after a cheating scandal in last year's race ultimately cost the team its factory support from Acura. The funding was moved to Wayne Taylor Racing for its second entry.
Shank will watch the race on a boat in Key West with an ultimate case of FOMO, he's acknowledged. He's trying to get back into sports car racing. But the team absence has denied Helio Castroneves from chasing a third consecutive Rolex win; teammate Tom Blomqvist will race for his third straight as part of the Wayne Taylor team that includes IndyCar star Colton Herta. Marcus Ericsson will make his Andretti Global debut driving the second car for Taylor, who last season took Andretti on as a partner.
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