Rolex 24 at Daytona: 6 Reasons to Watch This Weekend

History will be made.

byA.J. Baime|
Rolex 24 at Daytona: 6 Reasons to Watch This Weekend


Racing season kicks off this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. The world’s finest drivers and meanest sportscars are gathering there for the 2016 Rolex 24 (née, 24 Hours of a Daytona) endurance race. And this year’s event is going to be special. Real special. History will be made, no matter who wins. Here are six reasons you must tune in.

Daytona’s new look

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The Daytona International Speedway just got a $400 million facelift. “We can’t wait to show off what we’ve done,” track president Joie Chitwood III recently said. Wanna see what it looks like? Yeah, so do we. That’s why The Drive has boots on the ground this weekend.

The return of a legend (and the weight of its legacy)

The original Ford GT of the Sixties is arguably the greatest American racing car ever. Now, for the first time in decades, Ford is back to racing sportscars with a new Ford GT at Daytona. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 Le Mans victory—the first by an American manufacturer—as well as its win the following year, the new GT will run as No. 66 and No. 67 in an all-new iteration of red-white-and-blue livery. Because America. The new Ford team will be spearheaded by Chip Ganassi, a man with six Daytona wins to his credit, but carrying the GT’s torch is no easy task. If Ganassi can put the Fords on the podium, he’ll be the new Carroll Shelby. If not? He’ll probably be fired. It all begins this weekend. Look for Ganassi on your TV. He’ll be the one making a meal of his fingernails.

The Lamborghinis are coming

The Fords won’t be the only GT racing cars debuting at Daytona. Ferrari’s 488 will compete in racing trim for the first time, and Audi’s R8 LMS GT3—the brutally fast machine we tested at Road Atlanta last fall—will make its Stateside debut. Also, Lamborghini. Zero showed up for the Rolex 24 in 2015; this year, five Huracán GT3s will be on the grid. Throw in some Corvettes, plus a herd of 911s. And those two have history. Better chill that beer—it’s going to be a long night.

Driving disciples collide (literally)

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Driver talent is something to behold at the Rolex 24. Aside from 12 Hours of Sebring in March, this is the only American race that fields such a wide variety of wheelmen. This year’s race will feature NASCAR racers (Jamie McMurray, A.J. Allmendinger, Kyle Larson); IndyCar series champions (Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay); former Formula 1 guns (Sébastien Bourdais) and Le Mans winners (Alexander Wurz). And sometimes those styles clash.

An American racing milestone

This weekend is 50th anniversary of the first-ever 24-hour motor race in this country. To capitalize on the sudden craze of Le Mans endurance competition in the Sixties, promoters turned the Daytona Continental 2,000-Kilometer race into a twice-round-the-clock enduro in 1966. From the New York Times on January 30 of that year: “[This will] be the first time that a sports car contest of such length has been held in the United States. There is only one other 24-hour race in the world, the annual June event at Le Mans, France.” Ever since, Daytona has hosted an annual 24-hour event.

Ford and Chevy are racing in the same class

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What’s the greatest rivalry in the history of motoring? That’d be Ford vs. Chevrolet, folks. These two have been going toe-to-toe since the Twenties, a bare-knuckle slug-match of sales and speed, year after year, generation after generation. Which is “America’s Car Brand”? Each has its dealer lot talking points, but on the racetrack things are binary: There can only be one fastest. This weekend renews that great rivalry, with the fresh Ford GT throttling against the well-proven C7 Corvettes. Best part? Their running in the same GTLM class. Ford and Chevy, going wheel-to-wheel.

The 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off January 30 at 2:00 p.m. EST. Check out the full television schedule here.