By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Rolex 24 At Daytona has become renowned for its star power over the years, and next year’s 57th rendition is already shaping up to be no exception.
Last week’s announcement that two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso would return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener for the second consecutive year was the initial confirmation of what are expected to be many superstar cameos in 2019.
Alonso will share the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with its full-season co-drivers, Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande, as well as his own FIA World Endurance Championship co-driver – and another ex-F1 racer – in Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi.
“This is undoubtedly one of the greatest races in American and world motorsport,” said Alonso. “Returning to the United States is always special. The atmosphere created by the fans is unique throughout an incredible weekend. I really hope to fight for the win, as well as having fun and putting a smile on the fans’ faces.”
Fans will have plenty to smile about at the 2019 Rolex 24 on Jan. 24-27. In late 2017, BMW announced that two-time Champ Car World Series champion Alex Zanardi would compete in the 2019 race in a BMW M8 race car outfitted with hand controls. Zanardi lost both legs in a Champ Car crash at Eurospeedway Lausitz in 2001 but has become an inspiration since.
The Italian returned to the cockpit of a Champ Car at Eurospeedway in 2003 to complete the 13 laps he didn’t finish in the 2001 event. He then went on to win multiple races in the World Touring Car Championship and earned a fifth-place result in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) race last August driving a BMW M4 DTM car with hand controls at the Misano World Circuit in his native Italy.
In addition to his motor racing exploits, Zanardi has become a decorated racer in handcycling, winning the New York City marathon in his class in 2011, four Paralympics gold medals (two in the 2012 games in London and another two in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games) and two Paralympics silver medals (one each in London and Rio).
The 2019 Rolex 24 will be Zanardi’s first auto race in the United States since prior to his Champ Car accident in 2001. He tested a BMW M8 GTE car last month at the Miramas circuit in France in rainy conditions.
“I think I made huge progress during this test,” Zanardi said. “Particularly when you consider that the conditions were very tough. Miramas is not an easy circuit anyway, and then we had the rain to deal with too. It was a challenge getting to know the car in these conditions and at the same time finding out what I needed to do whilst driving. However, it was a very productive test.
“My feel for the car improved all the time and I soon found out what I need to be doing with my hands and how I can control the car’s various electronic functions. We are now very well prepared for the next test at Daytona. I have to say, the BMW M8 GTE is a real beauty. It was a privilege for me to take it out onto the track and drive it for so many laps.”
Zanardi’s preparations for the Rolex 24 will continue this month, with specific details on the team, car and his co-drivers soon to be announced. Other anticipated announcements over the next few weeks will confirm the participation of other motorsport stars, such as Indianapolis 500 and/or IndyCar champions, additional F1 veterans, NASCAR race winners.
Of course, those drivers are in addition to the cavalcade of sports car racing stars from the WeatherTech Championship, FIA WEC and elsewhere. On top of all that, the 57th Rolex 24 kicks off IMSA’s season-long 50th Anniversary Celebration, featuring a bevy of historic IMSA race cars, drivers and tributes galore.
So, if you’re a fan of motorsports, get your tickets for the weekend of Jan. 24-27 now at DaytonaInternationalSpeedway.com. Any Rolex 24 ticketholder also gets in free to the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 test on Jan. 4-6.
And if you can’t make it out to the racetrack, NBC Sports, IMSA Radio, SiriusXM Radio and IMSA.com will have you covered.