After five years away from top-level motorsports, former Rolex 24 at Daytona and Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice is looking forward to the prospects of fighting for a championship title in the final year of the Prototype Challenge class.
The 40-year-old was announced earlier this week as a full-season driver in one of BAR1 Motorsports’ Oreca FLM09s, teaming up with business partner Don Yount.
In his sports car racing return, Rice topped the PC time sheets in Friday’s first IMSA WeatherTech Championship test session at the Roar Before the 24 in his Gas Monkey Energy-backed entry.
The team ended the day with the second quickest time of the combined time sheets, in what Rice said has been a smooth transition back behind the wheel.
“Everything’s been good,” Rice told Sportscar365. “I haven’t been in a competitive car in five years, I just showed up, and I think the car’s really good.
“It’s got a good balance, and we’ll just see how it goes. I only did five or six laps, but everything is really good. I’m excited, and we’ll see what’s in store.”
Joining Rice in the No. 20 car are Mark Kvamme, Chapman Ducote, Gustavo Yacaman, as well as Yount, who has been racing off and on with the Brian Alder-led BAR1 squad since last year.
Rice said it was Yount’s relationship with the team that brought him into the fold, and gave them a chance to showcase their brand.
“Basically it’s just something that Don and I have been talking over as co-owners of the Gas Monkey Energy,” he said.
“We’ll have to see what happens, but it’s going to be fun to be able to drive with Don and carry our company colors, and also run with Brian and everybody at BAR1.
“It should be exciting, it should be a fun year.”
Rice rose to prominence with his triumph in the 2004 Indy 500 and amassed 97 starts and three race wins in an IndyCar career that spanned from 2002-2011.
While perhaps best known for his open-wheel exploits, Rice has also achieved significant success in sports car racing.
Most notable was his 2009 win at the Rolex 24 with Brumos Racing while teamed with David Donohue, Darren Law, and Antonio Garcia.
His most recent full-time season of any kind came in 2010 while driving for Spirit of Daytona Racing alongside Garcia in a Coyote DP in Grand-Am.
Although Rice’s last sports car start came with Action Express Racing in the 2011 Rolex 24, he said he has stayed connected to the sport.
“Just because I haven’t necessarily been specifically in the sports car paddock doesn’t mean I don’t know where it’s at,” he said.
“I’ve worked with some teams on some consulting. I’ve obviously been running race teams in other series with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s [Global Rallycross] program. I’ve done some stuff with IndyCar as well.
“So I might not have been in the seat but I’ve been floating around and staying up with everything.”
He added that he has enjoyed his return to the cockpit.
“This is a good opportunity,” he said. “I like the situation, I like the program, and that’s why I’m doing it.
“I’ve had opportunities to drive some other stuff that I didn’t think for me was a good fit for the situation I was in, so I think that where I’m at and what’s going on right now is good.
“These guys have some other things on the horizon I think that will be pretty exciting and cool, but you never know.
“It’s an ever-changing landscape here. We’ll see what happens. I’m excited.”