The start of the new Formula 1 season may be eight weeks away, but one of its biggest recent names will be hitting the track in anger for the first time this week in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Fernando Alonso made his debut in the race last year to gain experience ahead of his victorious maiden outing at Le Mans, but is back once again in his first race since quitting F1.

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This time around, Alonso will be gunning for overall victory as part of a stacked line-up at Wayne Taylor Racing, one of the leading outfits in the IMSA series.

Alonso will be joined in the field by a number of motorsport’s biggest stars, including 51 previous Rolex 24 class winners, 40 IMSA champions, 33 Le Mans class winners, five IndyCar champions – and even a few names from F1’s recent history.

Are you a sports car rookie keen to learn more about the Rolex 24? Or an F1 fanatic looking to learn the basics so you can follow Alonso’s progress?

We have everything you need right here with our rookie’s guide to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.


What is the Rolex 24 at Daytona?

The Rolex 24 acts as the opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, a North American sports car series. It is similar to the global FIA World Endurance Championship, with a number of its entrants also appearing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans each year.

The Daytona race has been a staple of the sports car racing calendar since its first running in 1962, back when it was a three-hour event and was first won by Dan Gurney. The race became a 24-hour race in 1966 before moving to a six-hour format for 1972 due to an energy crisis, only to return to its twice-around-the-clock format one year later.

Since 1991, Rolex has enjoyed title sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona (hence it being called the Rolex 24), with the winning drivers in every class receiving a steel Rolex Daytona watch.

Notable previous winners of the race include Pedro Rodriguez, Juan Pablo Montoya, A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr., Scott Dixon, Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx. The 2018 edition was won by Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi for Action Express Racing.

The Rolex 24 is identified as being one of three endurance ‘classics’ through the sports car racing season, linking up with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring to form an unofficial ‘triple crown’ (similar to the one Alonso is chasing).


The Track - Daytona International Speedway

If you mention the word ‘Daytona’ to the majority of motorsport fans, they will most probably think of NASCAR at first, such is the circuit’s synonymy with stock car racing.

The oval circuit also boasts a road course section, giving it a ‘half and half’ nature – also known as a ‘roval’ – that makes it a challenge for drivers to tame.

Daytona International Speedway’s road course is 3.56 miles long, featuring 12 corners. After crossing the start-finish line on the banked oval, drivers swoop down into a left-hander that takes them onto the first road course section. This features two hairpins before two 90-degree lefts that take them back onto the oval, which is followed for the remainder of the lap with the exception of the Bus Stop Chicane midway through.

The high banking was a particularly new experience for Alonso when he debuted at the race last year, having never previously driven the track before.

“The moments with the high banking were special,” Alonso said. “You feel the compression there in the body, you feel the visibility change because when you are in the normal part of the circuit, you have a view from the car that is a bit longer ahead.

“When you are in the corner on the banking, you see the next 200 metres of track, only that. I was trying to look where the track was going. It was good fun, the best feeling."


Rolex 24 at Daytona - The Classes

As with most sports car racing, the field is split into different classes depending on performance.

For the Rolex 24 at Daytona, there are four classes: Daytona Prototype International (DPi), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD). 47 cars have been entered to this year’s race across the four classes.

The DPi class is the top category at Daytona, and has 11 entries for this year’s race. This replaces the Prototype class that previously featured both DPi and LMP2 classes. The DPi cars are among the newest in sports car racing, and are produced by Cadillac, Acura and Mazda. Alonso will be racing in a Cadillac DPi car entered by Wayne Taylor Racing.

LMP2 receives its own class for this year’s race. This is the same as the LMP2 found in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and at Le Mans, but has only four entries for this year’s race.

GTLM features more mainstream manufacturers fielding their GTE-spec cars, the same that feature in the GTE-Pro class of the WEC. Nine cars have been entered to this year’s race: two each from Ford, Porsche, Corvette and BMW, and one from Ferrari.

GTD is a class for cars run to FIA GT3 specification, made up of privateer teams. A vast array of manufacturers are represented in GTD including Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche, Lexus, Ferrari, Mercedes and BMW. GTD is the biggest class at Daytona, featuring 23 of the 47 entries.


Rolex 24 at Daytona - The Drivers

Fernando Alonso’s interest in the Rolex 24 is hardly surprising given the event’s prestige, but don’t go thinking he won’t face a mighty challenge – the field is stacked with some of global motorsport’s brightest talents.

While there is no active F1 representation in this year’s race, the field is stacked with a number of regular IndyCar drivers. Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, and Sebastien Bourdais all feature in this year’s field, as do Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves.

Other names of note include ex-F1 racers Felipe Nasr – who finished second in last year’s race – Rubens Barrichello, and Pastor Maldonado, plus other big names from the racing world such as Mike Conway, Rene Rast, Alex Zanardi, Earl Bamber and Pipo Derani.

The majority of teams are entering with either three or four drivers to share duties across the 24 hours.

Teams are free to swap drivers when pitting at any point, but there are both minimum and maximum drive times they must adhere to.

In LMP2 and GTD, all drivers have a minimum drive time of 4 hours, 45 minutes. As these are classes featuring silver and bronze-rated ‘gentleman’ drivers, priority behind the wheel is likely to be given to the professionals in the team.

In DPi and GTLM, all drivers have a minimum drive time of two hours. Across all three classes, there is a maximum drive time of 13 hours and no more than four in any six.

You can check out the full entry list for Daytona by clicking here.


Rolex 24 at Daytona – Schedule

With the teams already completing the bulk of their practice running at the ‘Roar Before the 24’ test earlier this month and an unofficial qualifying session to decide garage order on pit road, there is not a huge amount of track time on offer before the start of the race.

Here is the schedule for this week’s running at Daytona (ET is local time; GMT is + 5 hours).

Thursday January 24
Free Practice 1 – 10:20am to 11:05am ET (3:20pm to 4:05pm GMT)
Free Practice 2 – 1:30pm to 2:25pm ET (6:30pm to 7:25pm GMT)
GTD Qualifying – 3:35pm to 3:50pm ET (8:35pm to 8:50pm GMT)
GTLM Qualifying – 4:00pm to 4:15pm ET (9:00pm to 9:15pm GMT)
Prototype Qualifying – 4:25pm to 4:40pm ET (9:25pm to 9:40pm GMT)
Free Practice 3 – 7:00pm to 8:30pm ET (00:00am to 1:30am GMT)

Friday January 25
Free Practice 4 – 10:00am to 11:00am ET (3:00pm to 4:00pm GMT)

Saturday January 26
Rolex 24 at Daytona race start – 2:35pm ET (7:35pm GMT)

Sunday January 27
Rolex 24 at Daytona finish – 2:35pm ET (7:35pm GMT


Rolex 24 at Daytona - What to watch for

As with any 24-hour sports car race, it’s impossible to make any predictions or assertions too early given the event’s longevity.

The same will be true at Daytona. While there is a certain amount we can predict and be sure of, the result is definitely wide open.

Strategy will be key to success. You can expect the Prototype cars to make pit stops around every 45 minutes – more often for fuel than tyres – and occasional driver swaps, while the GT runners should be in around every hour. Depending how safety cars, full course cautions and weather play out, though, things may be shaken up.

The length of the race also means that teams can often get back in contention despite issues that would prove terminal in a sprint event. Many cars will be taken ‘behind the wall’ and back to the garages through the race when lengthier repairs are required.

The best rule of thumb drivers have at Daytona is to simply make sure that you are in the mix come the final hour – and from there it is flat out!

While last year’s race was won by more than a minute, the 2017 edition went down to the final lap. Arguably the most dramatic moment in recent Daytona history came in 2016, when the two Corvettes were separated by just 0.034 seconds after 24 hours of frantic racing.

Can Fernando Alonso begin his life after full-time racing in Formula 1 in style by winning Daytona at the second attempt? Or will teams such as Penske, Action Express and Team Joest deny Wayne Taylor Racing a third Daytona win?

Stay tuned to throughout this week for all the latest coverage of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, including news, analysis and features.

This feature originally appeared on in January 2018, and has been updated ahead of the 2019 race.