Motorsport: Dixon welcomes line-up of four fellow Kiwis at Daytona

By Eric Thompson

The Action Express Racing Corvette DP during night practice for the IMSA Series Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona. Photo / AP
The Action Express Racing Corvette DP during night practice for the IMSA Series Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona. Photo / AP

An unprecedented five New Zealand drivers will be at this weekend's Rolex 24 of Daytona, making it the highest number of Kiwi drivers contesting an endurance race of such standing.

Indianapolis-based Scott Dixon will be sharing the track with Brendon Hartley, Richie Stanaway, Earl Bamber and Shane van Gisbergen. New Zealanders have triumphed on the famous Daytona circuit before, with Chris Amon winning in 1967 driving a Ferrari 330 P4 and Dixon has notched up two memorable wins, in 2006 and 2008, with Ganassi Racing in the Prototype class.

This year the three-time IndyCar champion is driving with Tony Kannan, Marino Franchitti and Kyle Larson, again with Chip Ganassi Racing.

"It's definitely cool [having the other Kiwis] here," said Dixon in an earlier Herald interview. "I actually tried to get Brendon in our car, although it didn't work out in the end.

"I don't get to see those guys a lot - I've seen them race around the world and seen how they've been doing, so it's exciting to finally catch up with them."

Also racing in the Prototype class is Hartley, with the team he raced and won with last year, Starworks Motorsport. The factory Porsche driver was given permission by his new employers to get a few kilometres under his belt before the World Endurance Championship kicks off in April at Silverstone.

Hartley will co-drive with Scott Myer and Alex Popov and is looking forward to getting into action. "I'm really happy to be back at the Daytona 24 Hour and there are an amazing five Kiwis on the grid," said Hartley from Daytona.

"There have been some major changes in the category and it'll be the first race that sees Daytona Prototypes and LMP2 cars alongside each other. There are quite a few unknowns going into the weekend but Starworks is a great team.

"I haven't done any pre-season testing but I'm confident we will be able to fight at the front of the field. I see the race as great preparation for the upcoming WEC series."

A further two Kiwis are going head-to-head in the GT Daytona class, with Earl Bamber (driving with Bradley Blum, Alexandre Imperatori and Roland Zitza) in a Porsche 911 GT America and Shane van Gisbergen (with Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen, Shane Lewis and LP Dumoulin) also in a Porsche 911.

"It's pretty special that there will be five of us at the race," said Bamber. "It's going to be a great race and being among all the other category cars is going to make the racing exciting. Some of the cars are better and faster on the banking but then we can get past them on the straight again.

"Running on an oval is spectacular and you're holding on pretty tight. You're 300km/h through the oval bit tipped over on your side and people don't really know how steep the banking is. It's a special place and I think the race is going to be special as well."

Van Gisbergen's WeatherTech Racing team is looking to have a strong finish after leading during the final hour last year of the event when they were forced to pit for a splash and dash, dropping them to sixth place.

"I've never done a race for 24 hours before," said van Gisbergen. "My co-drivers are very experienced, so I will be getting as much advice as possible for the best way to approach the race to keep fresh and ready for each stint.

"My goals are pretty simple: reach the finish and hopefully with a good result. I have watched the race the last two years from home and it's such an awesome race, I can't wait to be a part of it. The WeatherTech Porsche was always in the front few of the field. It's cool racing against cars with all different strengths and weaknesses, but achieving the same lap time."

Stanaway rounds out the top five as the lone Kiwi in the GT Le Mans class in his Aston Martin and is relishing the opportunity in his first race as a factory driver as he suits up alongside Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner, Pedro Lamy and Paul Della Lana.

"It's going to be a weird feeling being on track with drivers of so many different categories from around the world," said Stanaway. "I'm looking forward to getting to grips to racing against established professionals rather than drivers my own age.

"I'm very grateful Aston Martin has given me the opportunity ... and I'm sure everyone in the whole team will be giving 100 per cent."

The race starts at 8am, Sunday NZ time.

- NZ Herald

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