By IMSA Wire Service
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship fans searching for connections to Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 won’t have to look far.
Two-thirds of the drivers in the 33-car field have at least one start in IMSA’s top series. That includes the WeatherTech Championship or its predecessors, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). Ten of these 22 drivers have made at least one WeatherTech Championship start in 2019.
WeatherTech Championship full-timer Helio Castroneves, who shares the No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi with Ricky Taylor, is second in the 2019 WeatherTech Championship DPi point standings. He will be pursuing his fourth Indy 500 victory – which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for the most all-time.
“I’m just very fortunate to have a phenomenal team, to be able to give me the opportunity to go back, and I see all the fans really looking forward to being part of history,” Castroneves said. “I won’t give up until I make that dream come true.”
The weekend after Indy, Castroneves will reunite with Taylor for the 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park (NBCSN, NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com and IMSA Radio at 12:30 p.m. EDT).
The Team Penske lineup for Sunday also includes polesitter Simon Pagenaud, the third driver in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske machine for IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races at Daytona, Sebring and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta alongside full-time drivers Dane Cameron and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. Pagenaud was the 2010 ALMS LMP champion and is a 10-time IMSA race winner.
Castroneves and Taylor’s endurance teammate, Alexander Rossi, meanwhile, will be going for his second Indy 500 victory in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda after winning in 2016.
Sebastien Bourdais is a second WeatherTech Championship “full-timer” of sorts in the field. The Frenchman has competed in all four GT Le Mans (GTLM) races thus far in 2019 in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT alongside co-driver Dirk Werner. Bourdais is usually the No. 66 team’s third driver for the Michelin Endurance Cup events at Daytona, Sebring and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
But an illness sidelined regular driver Joey Hand for the last two races, prompting the team to call in Bourdais as a substitute. Bourdais placed the No. 66 Ford GT on the class pole position at Mid-Ohio and is currently fifth in GTLM points, although his full-time status is expected to end with Hand ready to return.
Bourdais’ actual full-time gig is driving the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda IndyCar. The team whose co-owners, Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, also field the pair of Lexus RC F GT3 machines in the WeatherTech Championship under the AIM Vasser Sullivan banner and won in the GT Daytona class at Mid-Ohio earlier this month for the team’s first win.
The Ganassi team, meanwhile, fields a pair of Indy 500 entries, including the No. 9 Honda for Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner and a three-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner. Dixon is the endurance driver for the No. 67 Ford GT alongside Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.
Dixon and Bourdais – who won the Rolex 24 overall in 2014 and the GTLM class in 2017 – are two of six Rolex 24 winners in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 field.
Colton Herta, who became the youngest winner in IndyCar history earlier this year, won his first Rolex 24 in January. He co-drove the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE to the GTLM class victory alongside Connor de Phillippi, Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus. The others are Tony Kanaan (2015), Graham Rahal (2011) and Charlie Kimball (2013) who each claimed an overall Rolex 24 victory with Chip Ganassi Racing.
The Indy field also includes three previous winners of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Bourdais is a two-time winner (2006 and 2015), Kanaan won in 2007 and Ryan Hunter-Reay took an LMP2 class win at Sebring in 2011.
Hunter-Reay – the 2014 Indy 500 winner – also won the 2018 Motul Petit Le Mans season finale alongside Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Earlier this month he co-drove the No. 55 Mazda DPi with Jonathan Bomarito to a third-place result at Mid-Ohio standing in for Harry Tincknell.
Perhaps the biggest story of Sunday’s final round of qualifications at Indianapolis also has strong 2019 IMSA ties. Kyle Kaiser, who has made three 2019 WeatherTech Championship starts in the No. 50 Juncos Racing Cadillac DPi, dramatically bumped his way into the field in the No. 32 Juncos Chevrolet as the final qualifier in the Last Row Shootout.
He bumped Fernando Alonso, who started 2019 with a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi alongside Jordan Taylor, van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi.
The Indy 500 field includes a total of eight teams with owners who also field entries in the WeatherTech Championship: Penske, Scuderia Corsa, Vasser-Sullivan, Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb Agajanian, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Ganassi, Meyer Shank Racing and Juncos.
The Indy 500 can be seen on NBC Sports, the home of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, beginning at 11 a.m. EDT on Sunday.