My favorite part of the racing season is here: the beginning. And, as per usual, we’re kicking it off with the IMSA WeatherTech series’ Rolex 24, a day-long event that puts drivers and machinery to the test. And to get you sufficiently amped, we’re going to run you through everything you need to know.
The first thing to note is that, this weekend, we’re only seeing qualifying. The big race starts on January 30, 2021 and ends on January 31.
The 24 Hours of Daytona—known as the Rolex 24 since the watch company started sponsoring the race in 1991—has been America’s premier sports car race since its first race back in 1962. It’s America’s answer to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The race is run on the 3.56-mile combined road course, which means it uses parts of the NASCAR tri-oval along with the infield road course. So, while it does involve the road course setup you’d expect from a traditional sports car race, you also get to watch some of the world’s most incredible cars on banking. If that doesn’t get you a little hot under the collar then you must be the kind of person who hates fun.
The Rolex 24 isn’t one of the legs of the Triple Crown of Racing, but that’s mostly because of its separation from other forms of international sports car racing. It’s a race that has developed separate from international sanctioning, content to play its own tune until recently, when folks realized they could run more races if they built a car that actually compete in ‘em. But winning the race comes with its own set of distinctions and can open plenty of doors for aspiring racers.
This race is the first race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Just like how many people who run Le Mans don’t run a full WEC season, many drivers who compete at the Rolex don’t contest stateside for a full year. But winning is always a great way to start the year.
This year, there will be five different classes to pay attention to. Basically, these classes denote a different genre of race car, from the purpose-built prototypes to the production-spec GT cars.
- Daytona Prototype International (DPi): These prototypes are the fastest and most advanced in North America, built to international specs. Basically, these are the top dogs, the cars you’ll expect to win overall.
- Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2): This closed-cockpit car is designed to compete both in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the international FIA World Endurance Championship.
- Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3): A new class for 2021, LMP3 has traditionally run as its own separate series. It’s similar to LMP2, just with a Nissan V8 engine and using tires that are available to the public.
- GT Le Mans (GTLM): These cars are based on production cars but are designed to eke out all the potential a car has to offer. As the name suggests, GTLM cars share regulations between IMSA and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, meaning that the cars can compete in both.
- GT Daytona (GTD): Based on global FIA GT3 specifications, GTD cars are the lowest tier on the grid—and are still obscenely fast.
If you want an even bigger breakdown, Jalopnik contributor Bozi Tatarevic shared an in-depth article with Hagerty that will make you an expert in no time.
The full entry list for the 2021 Rolex 24 is available here—and boy, is it stacked.
Watching a 24-hour race is always a bit of a struggle, but it seems especially so this year. In the United States, coverage will be split between NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com, and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, the latter of which will air flag-to-flag coverage. You can also find coverage on IMSA.tv and, for you Canadians out there, on Velocity.
Here’s a quick run-down of race day viewing:
- 3:30-4:30 PM Jan 30: NBC
- 4:30-8 PM Jan 30: NBCSN
- 8-11 PM: NBC Sports App
- 11 PM-3 AM Jan 31: NBCSN
- 3-6 AM: NBC Sports App
- 6 AM-2 PM: NBCSN
- 2-4 PM: NBC
It’s a real pain in the ass, I know. If worst comes to worst, you’ll find some motorsports streams Redditor who can provide you with a questionable link, but I’d definitely recommend nabbing NBC Sports Gold, if only just for this race.
In addition, the Motul Pole Award will be given out this Sunday, January 23 from 2:05 to 3:45 PM ET on TrackPass.