“And then we have our rookie driver from Denmark, I’m trying to remember his name, what’s his name? Magnussen! Right!”
Chip Ganassi may be jokingly struggling to remember Magnussen’s name, but nobody else is in anticipation of his IMSA debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
A star-studded event with drivers from all over the world, well-matched and balanced cars ensuring close competition and a testing 12-turn course are just some of the reasons you need to keep an eye on the blue-riband event this weekend.
The field is stacked with big names that you may not even know are past winners or would expect to be doing a 24-hour race. Think Kamui Kobayashi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Robert Kubica, Giedo van der Garde and Timo Glock to name a few.
The dramatic racing this track always promises will make for a tough test for those drivers. With a more compact track than somewhere like Le Mans, the chance of traffic intervening is so much higher.
Even if you aren’t an endurance racing fan, this event is one you simply have to make the effort for, and we’ve rounded up why.
The big star: Swapping F1 for IMSA
Magnussen has certainly made a splash in the team since his switch to IMSA, where he’ll race alongside two winners from last year. He’s joined by six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and Renger van der Zande, who’s going for three 24 Hours of Daytona wins in a row.
But the Ganassi team is the biggest talking point of what is one of the most star-studded 24 Hours of Daytona in recent memory, despite the team having only had around six days of preparation in the car – and Magnussen has still been impressed.
“I had very high expectations for Chip Ganassi Racing, and it hasn’t disappointed,” Magnussen told The Race.
— Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) January 21, 2021
“It’s been a great couple of weeks, the first couple of weeks and my introduction to the team has been smooth and I have to say, I’m not surprised.
“I expected it to be a very high level. These guys have won plenty of championships. If you look back at their record of success, it’s no surprise that the level is what it is.”
Magnussen and van der Zande contested the qualifying race last weekend and staying out on wets a bit too long cost a lead Magnussen had earned, seemingly immediately at home in these surroundings. However, that chain of events means the car starts last of the DPis in a race where overtaking within the class will be difficult without elements like traffic offering a helping hand.
However, with Dixon/van der Zande and the car that has won the last four events here, this trio has every chance. But there’s extremely strong competition.
A NASCAR influx
Jimmie Johnson starting this event raised a lot of interest as the seven-time NASCAR champion adjusts to IndyCar for next year, and he’s joined by 2013 DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller, Penske IndyCar driver and IMSA regular Simon Pagenaud and Kobayashi, who is also going for a third 24 Hours of Daytona win in a row. They’ll start just ahead of the #01 CGR car.
However, it’s reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott that could be the stock car ace who impresses as the 25-year-old gets his first taste of prototype racing this weekend.
With the qualifying race being two drivers per car only, Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani took the wheel and overcame a pre-race inspection failure to bag victory in the qualifying race, putting Elliott and Mike Conway on pole without turning a wheel.
“For me, I just felt like I wanted to try different things,’’ says Elliott (below left). “I’m still fairly young – in my 20s. I think as you get older, it just gets harder to learn new disciplines.”
No one told 45-year-old Johnson that! Although there’s an acknowledgement that he’s likely to be the least quickly up to speed of his team-mates in Daytona.
“I’m probably the one [on the team] with the least amount of experience, so I’m getting more reps in the car at this point just to try to help with my comfort and confidence in the car,’’ said Johnson, who will be helped by his old NASCAR crew chief Chad Knaus on the engineering side and by some of his and Chase Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports pitcrew joining the effort.
“I’m out there having a ton of fun but certainly trying to make each lap count because they are so limited and I’m trying to learn as much as I can personally out there.’’
With IMSA and NASCAR linked, it’s no surprise to see a crossover. But to have the stock car series’ most legendary active driver and its heir apparent as one of the most exciting talents in the discipline, this is really a mix of ingredients we may not see in this race at the same time ever again.
Anyone can win
It says more about the quality of the field that the #48 and the #1 will start at the tail-end of the DPis on Saturday.
Mazda has slimmed down to one car for IMSA this year but some believe an offseason without change in that programme, and a more focused effort, give Mazda its best chance yet.
Then there’s Acura, which won the 2019 IMSA title with Montoya and the 2020 championship with Castroneves. But the ARX-05 still lacks a big Daytona win, which is now without Penske for the first time as the marque’s gone in a different direction.
While Montoya is the big name in the #60 fielded by Meyer Shank Racing (above), AJ Allmendinger has been very impressive on his sportscar return this week while Olivier Pla and Dane Cameron are both established racers at this level creating a strong line-up.
Wayne Taylor Racing (above) may have been late to the party in terms of its preparation for 2021 as it switches from Cadillac to Acura, but its line-up is every bit as strong as MSR’s. And just look at that car/livery combo
Penske’s departure does mean that the two Acuras will be competing against each other from different teams. That won’t allow the strategy options and the ability to work together as it would have done with Penske, but perhaps it will allow one or both of the cars a fresh approach and to stumble across the difference maker that will lead to victory lane.
DPi entries, in starting order
#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-VR
Mike Conway, Pipo Derani, Chase Elliott, Felipe Nasr
#55 Mazda Motorsport Mazda RT24-P
Jonathan Bomarito, Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell
#5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-VR
Sebastien Bourdais, Loic Duval, Tristan Vautier
#60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-05
AJ Allmendinger, Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Olivier Pla
#10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05
Filipe Albuquerque, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Ricky Taylor
#48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-VR
Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller
#01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi- VR
Scott Dixon, Kevin Magnussen, Renger van der Zande
Click here for the full event entry list
Starting from third, you can never rule out the JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac either, which has a really nicely balanced and experienced line-up that should cope well with the pressure on race day.
While Cadillac has dominated the event for so long, this is the best chance and best prepared many of its rivals have been to capitalise. Pitstops – with rapid driver changes a must – and traffic will likely be the deciding factors with the cars so close together even over 24 Hours.
A 25-car class!
On paper, the GT cars make up over half the entry and should provide an unpredictable race, as is often the case in both its sub-classes at Le Mans each year.
However, if the qualifying race is anything to go by, one manufacturer’s off-season push has paid dividends in the GTLM ranks.
Chevrolet did not look challenged in said race, with the decision to sign Nick Tandy from Porsche and pair him with Formula E ace Alexander Sims alongside Tommy Milner was a masterstroke.
The car made its debut this time last year and ended up with five wins come the end of the season. It’s only strengthened its personnel in and outside of its driver line-up and only one car finished on the same lap as the Corvette 1-2 in the qualifying race, the #3 C8.R which won the GTLM IMSA title last year with Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor chased home by the #79 Porsche.
BMW won the race last year but has been hit with an unfavourable pre-event Balance of Performance update adding 20kgs.
Daytona marks the first time since what feels like forever that a factory Porsche squad won’t take part in the event, although the car’s had a 5kg weight relief for the weekend.
BMW’s best chance for a class win may instead come from the GTD class where it beat a number of the GTLM cars in the qualifying race to fifth with the #96 car of Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Colton Herta and Aidan Read.
Top five GTLM entries in starting order
#4 Corvette C8.R
Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy, Alexander Sims
#3 Corvette C8.R
Nick Catsburg, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor
#79 Porsche 911 RSR
Gianmaria Bruni, Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz, Cooper MacNeil
#62 Ferrari 488 GTE
James Calado, Jules Gounon, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon
#25 BMW M6 GTE
Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Timo Glock, Bruno Spengler
Top five GTD entries in starting order
#96 BMW M6 GT3
Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Colton Herta, Aidan Read
#9 Porsche 911 GT3R
Matt Campbell, Lars Kern, Zacharie Robichon, Laurens Vanthoor
#111 Lamborghini GT3 Huracan
Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Marco Mapelli, Steijn Schothorst
#14 Lexus RC F GT3
Oliver Gavin, Jack Hawksworth, Kyle Kirkwood, Aaron Telitz
#57 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Indy Dontje, Maro Engel, Philip Ellis, Russell Ward
Click here for the full event entry list
Put simply, GTLM – called GTLM Pro at Le Mans – is the further developed, top level of GTs and the drivers are gold- and platinum-rated. The GTD class hosts standard GT3 machinery and line-ups will include a silver or bronze-rated driver. There are six GTLM cars entered and 19 GT3 cars.
With 25 cars to choose from predicting the GT class winners is never easy. Throw in the fact that the frontrunning drivers were ahead of the top LMP3 entries and a number of LMP2 cars and that has the ingredients for chaos.
A Le Mans favourite, featuring Kubica
In what is a phenomenal class to watch each year, 10 cars will look to replicate that drama at Daytona this year in LMP2.
That includes Kubica, who confirmed this week that a long-term future in driving in the category is his main target, as he looks to race something representative – with high downforce – ready for when he has to jump back in an F1 car.
LMP2 qualifying race class winner
#52 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07
Scott Huffaker, Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating, Nicolas Lapierre
In the 51-lap qualifying race, the top entry, the #52 Mathiasen Motorsports-run ORECA, impressively managed to stay on the lead lap with the DPi headliners.
It was a strong battle throughout the race, although a late steering issue for the Cetilar Racing car driven by long-time Ferrari junior driver Antonio Fuoco will likely mean that entry is in with a good chance as well.
— Cetilar Racing (@CetilarRacing) January 25, 2021
It promoted the Kubica entry, which will no doubt please his legion of fans, although 51 laps is a drop in the ocean to what he and his team will face in the real race.
Eight LMP2s finished ahead of the GT entries and both the Dallara and Ligier – the other eight are ORECAs – made that top eight. Ligier has received a pre-race boost with a drop in the minimum wing angle it must run to help with its high-drag issue in Florida.
The new kid on the block
P1 again in final practice. Nothing wrong with our pace, fastest in all sessions 👊 We are ready to go racing! The Rolex 24 starts at 3.40pm EST (21.40h CET), watch it live on NBC, Ziggo Sport Racing or the IMSA app. We will give it all! pic.twitter.com/Qrjju0Gyqq
— Jeroen Bleekemolen (@jbleekemolen) January 29, 2021
This is the first time an enshrined LMP3 class has competed at Daytona, with seven entries marking a strong debut in terms of numbers.
How strong that debut is in terms of excitement is yet to be seen as the top car in the qualifying race was 27th, behind nine GT entries.
LMP3 qualifying race class winner
#6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine D08
Moritz Kranz, Hoerr Laurents
The #91 car spearheaded by Jeroen Bleekemolen may be the one to watch as it’s dominated practice despite failing to claim pole in the qualifying race.
Where to watch
NBC is showing the event across its various channels in the US when the race gets underway at 1540hrs (2040hrs UK time) on Saturday.
TV channels in Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Turkey are all set to provide at least partial coverage of the event.
For countries that do not carry TV coverage, IMSA’s website and app will stream the event and also host its radio updates, presented by John Hindhaugh, Jeremy Shaw, Shea Adam and Brian Till.
🇺🇸: @NBC 3:30 pm ET, streaming NBC Sports App and TrackPass
🇨🇦: Discover Velocity
Latin America: Fox Sports
🇳🇿: Sky TV
— #IMSA / #Rolex24 (@IMSA) January 30, 2021