Looking forward to the Daytona 24 Hours

by Gordon Kirby on 3rd January 2012

As January arrives the torpor of the holiday season begins to fade and in the northern hemisphere we start to enjoy a welcome lengthening of the days.

Already our thoughts are turning to the new season and Chip Ganassi and Dario Franchitti are among those looking forward to America’s first big race of 2012 – the 50th Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona on January 28/29.

Chip’s Grand-Am team, led by Scott Pruett, has won the Grand-Am championship five times and the Rolex 24 Hours four times in the past six years. Grand-Am champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (above with Chip) shared Ganassi’s winning Riley-BMW last year with Graham Rahal and Joey Hand while Scott Dixon/Juan Pablo Montoya/Dario Franchitti/Jamie McMurray completed Ganassi’s first one-two sweep at Daytona. As you might expect Chip is looking forward to flying down to Florida at the end of this month.

“You go down there in late January and it’s just a great event,” Chip says warmly. “Everybody’s there, not only our guys from our three different teams (NASCAR, IndyCar and Grand-Am), but a whole field of people from all over the racing world that you know – drivers, managers, engineers, mechanics.

“You see a lot of people down there and it comes at a time of the year when championships aren’t on the line and everybody’s fresh from a little vacation. Everybody’s in a good mood and with our success there it’s really jump-started the season for us the past six or seven years. Having some success in that race starts our season off with a little spark.

“At the end of the day it makes absolutely no sense that it’s the first race of the year, but then it’s so damn fun. We go down there and we’re as serious as we can be because we’re sort of the target these days. I feel so lucky and so honoured to have the group of guys that I have. They’re all taking shots at each other all weekend but they’re just so damn serious when it comes to driving the car.

“I remember Montoya’s first race there when he came back from Formula One and he ended up winning it. I remember him saying, ‘man, we’re doing so well. I just don’t want to crash the car.’ And since then he’s probably hit everything except the guy selling hot dogs!”

Franchitti won the Rolex 24 in 2008 co-driving one of Ganassi’s cars with Pruett, Montoya and Dixon. Dario finished second last year co-driving with Montoya, Dixon and Jamie McMurray and they will be together again this year. Last year in particular Montoya used his best fender-bashing NASCAR skills to push many other cars out of his path and Franchitti joked about their reputation.

“Our biggest problem with the Rolex 24 is getting the other drivers to understand when Montoya’s in the car and when we’re in the car,” Dario grinned. “We’re going to have a sign on the car this year when Monty goes out saying ‘Montoya’s in the car’. Then they’ll know it’s not us because last year he hit about everything out there and when we would go out people would take their revenge.

“All joking aside, I look forward to working with Scott, Juan and Jamie again. We always have a good time but we’re pretty competitive about the whole thing too. So we’ll be giving it our best shot. Being the 50th anniversary it’s a big one and everybody wants to go there and win the watch. It’s a great way to start the season.”

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