Geneva, Tuesday 9 January 2018 – When the famous command, “Drivers, start your engines” sounds across Daytona International Speedway and the green flag drops at 14:40 on Saturday 27 January, the 2018 Rolex 24 At DAYTONA will begin its marathon journey. The 56th edition of North America’s most prestigious sports car race will mark the start of the 2018 motor sport season and the biggest IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in its history, consisting of three classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD). Adrenaline-charged, the drivers, teams and motor sport fans around the world will take their positions, as the Rolex clock counts down from 24:00:00.
This year’s field, which includes winners from a wide range of motor sport disciplines and the highly-anticipated appearance of two-time FIA Formula One Drivers’ World Champion™ Fernando Alonso, took to the Daytona International Speedway at the weekend for three days of practice and qualifying sessions in the Roar Before The Rolex 24 – the precursor to the gruelling 24-hour contest later this month. For the first time in the event’s history, a special 15-minute qualifying session was held on Sunday for each class, determining the garage and pit locations for the Rolex 24.
Recording the fastest time of 1:35.806 in the Prototype class and qualifying first overall was Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. In the GTLM class, American favourite Joey Hand led with a 1:43.610 in the No. 66 Ford GT car, fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Italian Mirko Bortolotti topped the timesheet in the GTD category with an impressive time of 1:47.374 in the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. With the top six GTLM cars qualifying within half a second of each other and the top 18 cars in the GTD class separated by less than a second, the Roar Before The Rolex 24 anticipates a closely contested Rolex 24 At Daytona in just under three weeks’ time.
The Rolex 24 At DAYTONA pushes man and machine to the limit, testing reliability, perseverance and concentration around this unique circuit made up of a tri-oval superspeedway and a sweeping fast infield section. The 13 hours raced in the dark intensify the challenge, as the competitors are forced to sustain their focus in difficult conditions. Rolex has been Title Sponsor of the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA since 1992 and has supported this iconic endurance event since 1966. The specially engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona makes a fitting reward for the champions of this legendary race. Renowned as the ultimate racing driver’s watch, the ‘Daytona’ has become synonymous with performance and provides the perfect link to Daytona Beach – the birthplace of speed and home to 14 World Land Speed Records from 1903 to 1935.
Ahead of attending this year’s race, 2008 Rolex 24 At DAYTONA champion, three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and friend of Rolex, Dario Franchitti said: “We have a truly world class line-up for the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona, which demonstrates the strength and depth of endurance racing. It is a privilege for me to return to Daytona, whether at the wheel or soaking up the action trackside, so I am looking forward to seeing which drivers and teams triumph in this special race. For a driver to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona is an incredible achievement, but to receive a Rolex watch in Victory Lane is the ultimate reward.”
Prior to the Roar Before The Rolex 24 it was announced that former racing driver and current team owner Chip Ganassi will act as Grand Marshal for this year’s Rolex 24 At DAYTONA.
ROLEX AND DAYTONA
Rolex’s connection to Daytona harks back to an even earlier time when Daytona Beach was considered the capital of land speed records in the early 20th century. The long, flat and very firm Daytona Beach played host to 14 land speed records in the early part of the 20th century – five of which were set by Sir Malcolm Campbell, including the fastest official time recorded there of 276mph in 1935 at the wheel of his mighty Bluebird with a Rolex on his wrist. In 1992 Rolex formalized this long-standing association with Daytona and the Speedway becoming the Official Timepiece and Title Sponsor of the 24-hour Daytona classic, further strengthening the link between the race and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watch. After 26 years, the brand is now so closely tied to the event that motor sport aficionados simply refer to it as “The Rolex”.