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IMS Writers’ Roundtable: Volume 3

Wednesday, January 27, 2021 Indianapolis Motor Speedway

IMS Writers’ Roundtable: Volume 3

One of the biggest races of the global racing calendar will shift the 2021 season into a higher gear this weekend – the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

One of the biggest races of the global racing calendar will shift the 2021 season into a higher gear this weekend – the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The Rolex 24 sports car race has become a virtual all-star event, attracting drivers from different series all over the world, including IMSA, INDYCAR, NASCAR, the World Endurance Championship and more.

So, this week’s question for the IMS Writers’ Roundtable surrounds the Rolex 24 and the ultimate fantasy team for the twice-around-the clock endurance classic.

Today’s question: What four drivers with at least one career start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – in any series or era – would you choose as your dream team to compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona?

Paul Kelly: Well, I’m old. So, I’m going pretty old school with my picks, as my fearsome foursome is retired from active competition. My quartet: A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Hurley Haywood and Scott Pruett.

Nothing needs to be said about Super Tex and Mario, but here goes, for historical purposes and to sway the minds of anyone crazy enough to defy their selection.

Foyt won the Rolex 24 in 1985 in a bad-ass Porsche 962 prototype that he shared with sports car racing legend Bob Wollek, fellow Indy legend Al Unser and F1 standout and sports car ace Thierry Boutsen. A.J. also famously won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1967 in a Ford GT40 with Dan Gurney as his teammate, driving a herculean double shift at night. Super Tex is best known for his four Indy 500 wins, but he also was a hell of a sports car driver.

Andretti won the Rolex 24 in 1972 and was a three-time winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Like his rival and buddy Foyt, Mario was otherworldly in any car he drove. The Rolex 24 is a LONG race, but I would like my chances of just A.J. and Mario out-driving four-man teams to victory at Daytona.

Haywood only made one start in the Indy 500, finishing 18th in 1980. But he is unquestionably one of the greatest American sports car drivers ever. Haywood won the Rolex 24 five times, the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and the 12 Hours of Sebring twice. I want that man in my car.

Pruett enjoyed more success than Haywood in open-wheel cars, with two CART victories in a 10-year career at the top levels of North American open-wheel racing. He also came close to winning the 1995 Indianapolis 500 until crashing out from the lead with 15 laps to go.

But Pruett’s career flourished in sports cars after his open-wheel days ended. He won the Rolex 24 overall five times, including four times between 2007-13, when he was in his late 40s and early 50s. Few drivers know their way around the 3.56-mile roval at Daytona better than Pruett.

Curt Cavin: PK certainly has four outstanding selections, but let me take a more modern approach, selecting active drivers.

Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya are two of the 11 drivers in Rolex 24 history with at least three overall wins. Dixon, who won last year, is arguably the best closer in the sport today, likely as good in a sports car as he is in INDYCAR. As with his INDYCAR championships, his 24-hour wins have come years apart, the first coming in 2006. Montoya won the Rolex in 2007, 2008 and 2013.

I’d also insist on having Sebastien Bourdais in the car. Bourdais has only won the Rolex 24 overall once, in 2014, and also was on the GTLM class-winning team in 2017. He also has twice finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2007 and 2009), and in 2010 he won the pole for his hometown race at Le Mans.

My fourth driver would be Fernando Alonso, the only driver in this group to have won both Daytona (2019) and Le Mans (2018 and 2019).

Zach Horrall: My Rolex 24 at Daytona dream team is a mix of old and new: Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Chase Elliott and Sebastien Bourdais.

Leading my team is Gurney. Sure, he failed to win the Indy 500 in nine attempts, but man, was he a road racing king. All of his racing wins across INDYCAR, NASCAR and Formula One came on a road course (let’s not forget how he absolutely dominated Riverside). And he was no slouch at Le Mans, having won the race in 1967.

Next is Donohue, the 1972 Indy 500 winner, who was one of America’s best road racers. He scorched a path through SCCA, Trans-Am and Le Mans, and there’s no doubt in my mind that a Donohue in his prime is an ingredient for success down on the Daytona road course.

Now let’s talk current drivers. Elliott is NASCAR’s new king of the road, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t have him on my team. He’s on a four-race win streak at road courses and boasts an impressive career average finish of 8.9 on road courses alone. Plus, he’s sure to be the favorite for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series race on the IMS road course. Elliott’s Action Express team is starting on pole this weekend, so maybe this is more of a warning to watch out for him.

Rounding out my team, like Curt mentioned, is Bourdais. The guy is a modern-day icon when it comes to all-around racing. He’s an INDYCAR SERIES legend with four titles and 37 wins, and he’s got a couple Rolex’s as a part of six American sports car victories. Although Le Mans has eluded him, he does have three poles and three podium finishes. Oh, and Seb’s No. 5 entry starts on row two this weekend.