There have been “all-star” driver lineups in the Rolex 24 At Daytona before, but this year’s Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi two-car roster is absolutely one for the ages.
And while we’ve seen our share of star power over the years in the Rolex 24, what’s unique about the Penske team’s lineup is that they won’t only be challenging for a new Rolex watch this weekend but will contend full time hoping to land an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype season title as well.
The six drivers sharing Penske’s two Acura prototypes this weekend on the Daytona International Speedway road course – Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Dane Cameron, Ricky Taylor, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal account for five Rolex 24 overall victories, three WeatherTech Championship titles, five Indianapolis 500 wins, two IndyCar championships, and seven Formula One grand prix victories.
That’s all in addition to a grid-full of sports car talents who will run the full IMSA WeatherTech Championship season and drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula 1 coming for the annual test of endurance.
“I think it’s great, so many good drivers from different series and different horizons,” Penske driver and former IndyCar champion Pagenaud said of his team’s star-studded lineup for the Rolex.
“I think that’s the key to this race, it’s a bit of an IROC. The best drivers from everywhere come over here and do first race of the year to get warmed up and bring the big trophy back home.
“It’s exciting to have Fernando [Alonso] and all the big names, so personally I just want to go out there and try to beat them all.”
It’s absolutely the mission for the new Team Penske Acura ARX DPi sports car team that will feature Montoya and sports car standout Cameron in one car competing full season and three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves and defending Rolex 24 winner Taylor fulltime in the other Penske car for 2018.
Pagenaud will join the Montoya-Cameron No. 6 car for Daytona and Graham Rahal will join the Taylor-Castroneves No. 7 team for the Rolex. They will all re-team again for the March 17 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
It’s an intimidating and exciting combination and certainly a strong send-off this weekend for the season-long efforts of Montoya and Cameron; and Castroneves and Taylor.
“You’ve got to say the reason Acura came with Team Penske is because Team Penske normally delivers,” Montoya said.
“As you see, everything they get involved in, they figure out how to win. The last program they did, they went to Australia with the V8s, they learned and then they dominated this year. We expect to really be up front every race.
“I’m excited. I think the reason we’re all here is Acura believes we can deliver and we’ll get the job done for them.”
His teammate Castroneves is transitioning to sports cars full time as well with his longtime team, Penske Racing, following a historic 20-year career in IndyCar, hoisting three Indianapolis 500 trophies and becoming one of the sport’s most iconic drivers.
“Feels great,” Castroneves said smiling. “No question this program, Team Penske and Acura were able to get together and I’m very fortunate to be a part of this group.
“Obviously, we know each other and it’s great to be learning with these young guys now. Ricky [Taylor] is a champ and learning a new style, learning different techniques and different cars, which is great.
“That’s what I want to do, keep racing. I’m happy to be racing and be a part of a different program, a very well-respected program in sports cars right now.”
Their co-drivers for the regular season both seem very optimistic and enthusiastic about the possibilities – even with the anticipated challenges of debuting a new car.
“It’s hugely exciting and big opportunity for me to be a part of Acura Team Penske,” said Cameron. “I’m really looking forward to it and being with Juan is going to be a lot of fun. It’s been really fun to be part of the process from the beginning and sharing some of the knowledge and experiences from the past couple years.
“And what we’ve learned is a lot of little details that go into these endurance races can bite you. So, I’m trying to share some of that stuff I’ve learned over the last 10 years of doing sports cars full time and trying to push this thing forward and make sure we get not only Rolex 24 win, but many wins throughout the year and hopefully a season ending championship as well.”