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Two Easy Cures for Winter Racing Blues This Weekend

If you’re a hardcore race fan, you know the feeling.

The major North American racing season finishes right before Thanksgiving with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then the holidays arrive with all of their joy, hustle and bustle, leaving you little free time.

But once the New Year arrives, it hits you. That “Man, I miss watching live racing” feeling. Problem is, the NASCAR season doesn’t start until late February at Daytona. IndyCar, Formula 1 and MotoGP don’t start until March.

So what to do?

The Chili Bowl provided sweet relief two weekends ago, with excellent live coverage of the annual indoor midget car classic on MAV TV. And thankfully, there’s more relief coming this weekend if you’re willing to open your racing horizons.

Global racing awakens from its offseason hibernation this weekend with two cool marquee events, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Rally Monte Carlo.

The Rolex 24 is the crown jewel of North American road racing and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. With 24 hours of racing among three different classes and 50 cars, there’s enough action and interesting fights on track to satisfy almost anyone.

Endurance racing builds its own kind of drama. All of the problems that can occur in shorter sports car races – mechanical problems, slow pit stops, traffic, weather – are magnified and exacerbated over 24 hours. A winning car in any class of the Rolex 24 rarely enjoys a trouble-free run, so overcoming obstacles and managing the drama are crucial components of any winning run.

This year’s Rolex 24 features all kinds of interesting story lines, especially when you consider there are 23 drivers in the field at Daytona International Speedway who have started at least one major event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, whether the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Big Machine Brickyard 400, INDYCAR Grand Prix or United States Grand Prix.

Daytona is seeing a bit of the same “Alonsomania” that gripped IMS last May.

Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso is making his first Rolex 24 and IMSA start in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier. Alonso became an honorary Hoosier last May by leading four times for 27 laps in his first Indianapolis 500 start before retiring from the race with 20 laps to go due to a mechanical failure. He also showed remarkable respect for the race and grace among all who entered his world, two qualities he has carried with him this week to Daytona.

Team Penske’s return to sports car racing also is a great storyline to follow this weekend at Daytona. The winningest team in Indianapolis 500 history is fielding two Acura prototypes. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is sharing the No. 6 Acura Team Penske entry with two-time INDYCAR Grand Prix winner Simon Pagenaud and Dane Cameron, while three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves is driving the team’s No. 7 entry with Indianapolis 500 veteran standout Rahal and Ricky Taylor.

Helio just missed the pole, falling .007 of a second short, in qualifying Thursday. Another former Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, will share the Cadillac that won the pole in the skilled hands of Renger Van Der Zande.

So it’s very possible we could see Helio and RHR dueling for victory in the final hour after 23 hours of racing on the 3.56-mile “roval” at DIS. Wouldn’t that be cool?

There’s also a good chance Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon and Indy 500 veterans Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe could battle for the win in the GTE class, as they’re each driving one of two Ford GT cars fielded by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

The FOX family of networks is televising the Rolex 24 live this year. Get the snacks and a few pots of coffee ready and enjoy everything on this schedule:

2-5 p.m. (ET) Saturday: FOX

5-10 p.m. Saturday: FS2

10-11 p.m. Saturday: FOX Sports GO app

11 p.m. Saturday-1 a.m. Sunday: FS1

1-8 a.m. Sunday: FOX Sports GO

8-10:30 a.m. Sunday: FS2

10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday: FOX Sports GO

10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: FS1

You also can listen to outstanding IMSA Radio coverage, featuring the infectious and informative John Hindhaugh as the lead announcer, on IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile app.

The other major event to follow this weekend while you shake the winter racing blues takes place on the icy, slick mountain roads above the millionaire’s paradise of Monaco.

Rally Monte Carlo is the traditional season start for the World Rally Championship, what I consider to be one of the most criminally underrated racing championships in the world. The event started Thursday and continues through Sunday.

If you don’t know rally, take time this weekend to check it out. It’s not traditional racing, with cars competing fender-to-fender or wheel-to-wheel, but it’s very interesting and cool.

WRC drivers and their navigators, known as co-drivers, complete about 14 to 20 point-to-point routes on public roads, known as stages, in every WRC event. The stages usually vary in length from 2 to 30 miles and can be on gravel, snow, mud, sand or asphalt.

The Monte is an asphalt rally, so the speeds can be terrifying on these narrow, twisting mountain roads lined by stone walls. Complicating matters for drivers, co-drivers and engineers trying to make tire choices are varying grip levels created by rain, snow and ice.

Drivers start each stage two minutes apart, and the driver and co-driver with the quickest overall time at the end of the rally is the winner. The cars are incredible machines, 375-horsepower hatchbacks with turbocharged engines and wild aerodynamics. Four manufacturers race in the WRC – Ford, Citroen, Hyundai and Toyota. So there’s plenty of mechanical variety and different looks to the cars. And the cars look a lot like their counterparts in your local showroom.

The best way to follow the action from the Monte is through the free Red Bull TV app, available on Roku, gaming consoles and smart phones. Red Bull releases a slickly produced, informative, fun show each night of every WRC event, and each rally’s shows are archived for convenient viewing until the next WRC event starts.

There’s no better time to shake the winter racing blues than this weekend. Enjoy the action from Daytona and Monte Carlo. And remember: Spring is coming, and the sweet sound of engines roaring in May at IMS is closer than you think! Is it May yet?

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