By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
The 56th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off the racing year with one of the most star studded grids of the season. Among the starters of tomorrow’s endurance classic are three 2018 Formula One drivers who have come stateside to compete against the best of IMSA, as well as some of better talents from NASCAR and IndyCar.
Fernando Alonso is continuing his exploration outside of F1 as the next chapter of his triple crown attempt (Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans) continues. The Spaniard’s McLaren teammate and reserve driver, Lando Norris, will be alongside him in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 run by McLaren’s Executive Director Zak Brown.
Williams second year driver Lance Stroll shares the No. 37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA Oreca LMP2 with his former F3 rivals Daniel Juncadella, Felix Rosenqvist, and Robin Frijns.
Alonso, a two-time F1 champion, is arguably the most notable driver in the race and certainly the biggest name among the guest drivers. It marks his second foray to the U.S. after his highly publicized entry in last year’s Indianapolis 500. This weekend’s race marks his first entry into the world of sports car racing after a long career spent focused on single seaters, with the goal of this potentially launching him to a ride in the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year.
Norris, the reserve driver for McLaren Renault this upcoming F1 season, is the brightest young talent from the United Kingdom at the moment. The 18-year-old won last season’s Formula 3 championship, claiming nine wins and eight poles with the stalwart Carlin team. Norris is set to stick with Carlin to compete in FIA Formula 2 this year in addition to his testing duties with McLaren.
For Stroll, after an up and down rookie season that saw him net a surprise podium in Baku and a front row start at Monza, the young Canadian is hungry for extra seat time ahead of a 2018 season that he will have to face without the guiding hand of veteran Felipe Massa. Stroll preceded Lando Norris as Formula 3 champion in 2016. This year marks Stroll’s second appearance at the Rolex 24, but his first in the top line prototype class. He first came stateside in 2016 where he drove a Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing with Alexander Wurz, Brendon Hartley, and Andy Priaulx to fifth-place overall.
Overall, Stroll’s team will start the event from sixth on the grid, with Alonso and Norris set to make their march from 13th.