While Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Prototype effort for the Rolex 24 at Daytona features a star-studded lineup, packed with former winners of the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans, not to mention multiple FIA World Champions, there’s one relatively unknown name among the likes of Dixon, Kanaan, Hartley, Priaulx and Wurz.
He may not yet have the accolades of his teammates, but at only 17 years old, Lance Stroll is already making waves in the open-wheel world and is set for his sports car racing debut next weekend in Daytona.
The Canadian, who won the 2014 Italian Formula 4 Championship and placed fifth in last year’s FIA European F3 Championship, is being touted as one of the sport’s next big stars in the making, with Stroll having recently been signed to Williams’ F1 Driver Development Program.
Sportscar365 caught up with the Swiss-based driver to get his thoughts on his Rolex 24 debut and the challenges that lie ahead as he comes to grips with a prototype for the first time.
Has competing in the Rolex 24 been a goal of yours for a while?
“It’s not really been a goal of mine; my goal is to win F3 [this year] and hopefully go onto bigger and better things.
“The opportunity came. I was speaking about doing some endurance races with a few people here and there.
“We had the right connections with Chip Ganassi and he was thinking about running a second car, which was only supposed to be the No. 02 car in the beginning.
“Then Wurz, Hartley, Priaulx, we all seemed to agree and it all worked out in our schedules and went ahead with the program.”
What’s been some of the biggest advise you’ve gotten from your co-drivers so far?
“Not anything in particular. It’s little things here and there. They have night racing experience, in doing Le Mans and other things. Consistency, going through traffic, things like that that I’ve never done before.
“But in general, we’re racing drivers and we all drive a lot. By me doing laps and seeing GT cars and understanding how to overtake, I think it’s just a matter of time in the car and experience I need to learn.”
Did you imagine driving for a team like Chip Ganaasi so early in your career?
“It’s great. Chip has plenty of history with his team in IndyCar and the Rolex 24 and NASCAR. It’a a great organization and team.
“It is a honor to be part of their team for this race. There’s a lot of talent in both cars. I hope maybe in the future we can do more stuff together.”
Endurance racing is something new for you to adapt to…
“I’ve never experienced it before. I might love it or it might not be my thing. It’s definitely different.
“There’s driver changes, undoing the seat belts… I’m not used to those things, and even pit stops, that’s something new to me. Driving in the night as well.”
What were your first impressions of the Daytona Prototype?
“I’ve done a couple of GT tests but this has been my first time in a Daytona Prototype. It’s different. There’s a lot of weight; there’s a lot of power.
“It’s a totally different thing; it’s not the same as I’m used to. But I’m enjoying it. I like the experience of driving the car and it’s something else that’s good to learn.”
Do you feel any extra pressure given the experience, and success of your co-drivers?
“Not necessarily. I’m used to working with professional people. The team I drive for in Europe with another very professional team. I’m used to being at this level of racing with this level of drivers.
“We’re a team. If someone crashes, we all crash together; if someone makes a mistake, it’s all of us. We’re not [pointing the finger] at one individual person.”
What do you think the biggest challenge will be in the race for you?
“I think traffic will be huge. There’s 55 cars on the track so you’re constantly in some kind of trouble, whether it’s a GT car slowing down or someone overtaking you. So I think you have to stay concentrated as well.
“In formula racing. we’re used to preparing by getting a really good night’s sleep and get up, do our warmup. It’s all very [defined] and we’re all preparing very well for our one race we have.
“But here, it’s like if there’s a problem with the car someone wakes you up and it’s 3 a.m., you’ve got an hour’s sleep and you have to jump in the car.
“All of those things will be new. I’m going to try and stay focused and not make any silly mistakes like a lot of drivers do, like crashing out on the exit of pit lane. I’m not going to do any of that.”
Does it give you any extra pressure knowing Ganassi are the defending race winners and are going for their sixth overall win?
“I don’t think it’s pressure; I think it’s motivating. We know we have a good team. But the other cars are pushing too.
“Every year is a new year. It’s not because you won last year, it’s given to you on a silver plater to you this year.
“It’s good to know that we have a good race car. But there’s so many little variables that can happen during the race. We just have to stay focused and do everything properly.”
You’ve recently signed with the Williams Driver Development Program. What does that mean to follow in the footsteps of some very accomplished drivers?
“It’s a great step forward in my career. I left the Ferrari Academy to join them but it’s a positive thing for me because I get a very good role in being their development driver. I get a lot of simulator time, hopefully a couple of days in the Formula One car.
“It’s positive stuff and I’m just excited to work with a team like Williams with so much history and experience.
“It’s great because they believe in young drivers and have done that in the past with Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button… They started off their careers [at Williams] and have all developed very well and are very good drivers in Formula One.”