The weekend is almost upon us. That means that the 2019 racing season is here. Last weekend was the annual Chili Bowl race down in Tulsa. This weekend, is the 57th annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona for IMSA. These two consecutive weekends officially jump start the upcoming racing year.
With that being said, the 57th edition of the endurance race at the Daytona International Speedway has a ton of interesting storylines. It seems as much as this is arguably one of the most highly anticipated Rolex races in years.
Drivers representing 25 different nations will participate in this year’s Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, but drivers won’t be the only ones representing; fans from 24 different countries will be in attendance for the weekend’s festivities.
Here are the top five storylines surrounding it.
Alex Zanardi To Make Rolex Debut
Alex Zanardi will make his first Rolex 24 start with BMW’s No. 24 entry in the GT Le Mans class. The Italian driver lost both of his legs in a CART event in Germany in 2001. Despite his injuries, Zanardi is a Paralympic Gold Medalist and has competed in multiple European GT Championship events for BMW. Zanardi previously competed at Daytona International Speedway in the 1997 IROC event on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. It will be interesting to see how Zanardi will fare. He’s a true world class racer and arguably one of the best there ever was.
Fernando Alonso Returns For A 2nd Try
Speaking of world class racers, two-time Formula 1 and 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Fernando Alonso will return to the high banks of Daytona for his second start in the Rolex 24. Alonso will co-drive for the 2017 Rolex 24 champion team of Wayne Taylor Racing in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside his World Endurance Championship teammate Kamui Kobayashi and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regulars Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande. The only Formula 1 Drivers’ Champion to win the Rolex 24 is Mario Andretti in 1972.
Fittipaldi Looking To Repeat In Final IMSA Race
Three-time and defending Rolex 24 champion Christian Fittipaldi will retire from full-time racing following the 2019 Rolex 24. Fittipaldi and his No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi co-drivers, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque, will attempt to become the first drivers to win back-to-back Rolex 24 overall victories since Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007 and ‘08 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Meyer Shank Racing’s All Female Team
2012 Rolex 24 overall champions Meyer Shank Racing, in partnership with Heinricher Racing, will have an all-female driver lineup in the No. 57 Caterpillar Acura NSX GT3. The entry will feature Katherine Legge, Ana Beatriz, Simona de Silvestro and Christina Nielson. The highest finishing overall female driver in Rolex 24 history was Milka Duno in 2007 with a second-place finish and the last female to co-drive to a class win was Claudia Hurtgen in 1997.
NBC’s 1st IMSA Race
IMSA’s attendance and viewership rose last year but those numbers are expected to rise even more in 2019. NBC Sports now has the exclusive rights to IMSA as their first race together will be this weekend. NBC Sports is rolling out the red carpet for this prestigious event. They’ll utilize 17 of its IMSA, NASCAR, and INDYCAR commentators, analysts and reporters on-site for its inaugural presentation of the race.
Continuous 24-hour coverage from the iconic Daytona International Speedway will feature a rotating cast of commentators, analysts and reporters, headlined by NBC Sports’ lead IMSA commentating team of play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey, former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver A.J. Allmendinger (analyst), and former IMSA GT driver and analyst Calvin Fish (analyst).
“There is no better spectacle in U.S. racing over a 24-hour period than this event with these drivers, who have incredible storylines,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports. “From the all-female IMSA team to Alex Zanardi racing on U.S. soil again to our very commentators driving in the race, we couldn’t ask for a better way to launch our partnership with IMSA.”
NASCAR legend-turned analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins analyst Steve Letarte and host Krista Voda inside the “Peacock Pit Box,” a state-of-the-art remote studio set designed to bring viewers closer to the action. Built within a traditional pit box frame, the “Peacock Pit Box” will be set up along pit road.
An additional broadcast booth comprised of NASCAR on NBC lead announcer Rick Allen, INDYCAR on NBC analysts Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell, and Brian Till will be featured throughout the weekend. Bell will compete in all rounds of the upcoming IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, while Allmendinger will participate in IMSA’s endurance races. Both will race in the Rolex 24.
NASCAR on NBC reporters Marty Snider, Dave Burns, Kelli Stavast and Parker Kligerman will join INDYCAR on NBC reporters Kevin Lee and Jon Beekhuis to share in pit road duties. In addition, Rutledge Wood will showcase stories around the Daytona International Speedway.