Scott Pruett will aim for the record books during the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Pruett, a four-time Rolex 24 winner, will try to tie Hurley Haywood’s record five victories this weekend. Pruett was part of last year’s race-winning team in the headlining Daytona Prototype class. Along with teammate Memo Rojas, he is the two-time defending Grand-Am Series champion.
“Tying Hurley’s record would be incredible,” Pruett said. “It’s always exciting — no matter what the sport — to be able to get close and then tie or even surpass one of the great records. Looking at the quality of the teams this year, the Rolex 24 has turned out to be an incredible show.
“It’s going to take a lot of effort, and a bit of luck, to be able to win.”
Qualifying starts Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. The twice-around-the-clock race begins Saturday.
Pruett is again part of the star-studded entries from the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization. He’s teamed in the No. 01 BMW/Riley DP entry with Rojas, IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal and sports car veteran Joey Hand.
The No. 02 team from Ganassi is made up of NASCAR drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray and IndyCar stars Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Franchitti and Dixon have combined to win six of the last nine IndyCar championships.
A year ago, the race came down to a fight between the two Ganassi cars. Pruett pulled away from Dixon on a smooth final restart to beat his teammate by 2.42 seconds. It gave team owner Ganassi a Grand Slam of sorts in auto racing — it was his fourth major victory in the United States during a one-year period, adding to the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.
Except for the Rolex win, Ganassi drivers were shut out of all those races in 2011.
The Ganassi teams this year will be challenged by a five-car contingent of new Corvette DPs, which was unveiled late last year amid great hype because of body designs inspired by Chevrolet’s production Corvette.
Two other heralded cars will debut this weekend with the Corvettes: The Ferrari 458 Italias and Audi R8s were both built specifically for Rolex Series competition. Two-tome Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will co-drive one of the Ferraris, along with X-Games star Travis Pastrana, Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas.
The entry is a joint effort of the Italian sports car team AF Corse and Michael Waltrip Racing.
“It’s Daytona, and there’s no place I’d rather race,” Waltrip said. “The Daytona 500 will always be the most important race to me, but this weekend’s race is really special. I’m looking forward to seeing all the drivers from around the world.
“It’s like all the drivers you have heard about or seen on television gather for this one race. Plus, I can’t wait to spend the week with Rob, Rui and Travis. This is going to be a lot of fun.”
Pastrana has never before had the opportunity on his schedule to attempt the race.
“This is a prestigious event that I have always watched and followed on television,” Pastrana said. “Friends like Jimmie Johnson and Boris Said raced in it and it’s something I wanted to try.
“It’s always been held on the same weekend as the first round of Rally America, so this is one of the first time’s I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the Rolex 24. Rob asked me to join the team and it didn’t take long to answer.”
The star-studded race includes three-time F-1 winner Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger. Representing the celebrities, it’s GT class regular Patrick Dempsey of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, a long-time historic/vintage racer who is co-driving a BMW/Riley in the Daytona Prototype class.
Last year, Dempsey shuttled back and forth from the race and the Sundance Film Festival, capping the weekend with a successful premier of a new movie and a career-best third-place finish in the GT class.
On Tuesday, the event lost a star-studded entry when IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan posted on Twitter that sponsorship had fallen through on the DP entry he planned to drive. Kanaan was to make his race debut along with fellow IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and EJ Viso.
“Guys, unfortunately I will not race at the Daytona 24H this Saturday,” Kanaan posted on his Twitter page. “The funding that the Starworks Motorsports team had went away.”
It will be the first 24 Hour race that Hunter-Reay has missed since 2006.
In honour of the 50th anniversary, Daytona International Speedway has gathered 29 of the previous 49 winning cars. On Friday, the parade of cars will begin near the Daytona beach and travel to the track.
Two-time Rolex 24 winner A.J. Foyt is Grand Marshal of the race.