Above: United Autosports teammates Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Phil Hanson at Daytona on Thursday.
Fernando Alonso drove through the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway for the first time on Thursday morning, beginning preparations for this weekend’s Roar Before The Rolex 24 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test.
“It was quite impressive – a similar feeling to Indianapolis – coming to a huge speedway for the first time and seeing all the grandstands, the facilities, the size of everything,” said the Spanish two-time World Champion and driver for McLaren in Formula 1 competition. “This is obviously very, very big, and gives the feeling that you are in a race that is very unique, an iconic motorsports event.
“I’m really looking forward to jumping in the car,” added Alonso, who will join McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris and Phil Hanson (above) in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 LMP2 Gibson.
The Roar test and subsequent Rolex 24 on Jan. 27-28 will produce many firsts for Alonso, including his first time racing on a high-banked circuit.
“Many new things for me. I saw the corners, and the banking is quite steep here compared to Indianapolis,” said Alonso, who raced in the American open-wheel classic last May. “I’m really looking forward to experiencing how it feels in the car. Also, you have to share the car, the setup, the seat position, there’s many things you need to compromise. It’s a good challenge, with many new things – traffic management, tires, driving at night. I’m looking forward to it. I’m with the right team and the right teammates, it’s a nice experience. I’m sure when we close the visor we will try to win the race.”
Alonso is also looking forward to the competition.
“I’m happy to be here,” Alonso said. “Not only Juan Pablo [Montoya], but there are many other very strong drivers racing this year. I think the Prototype class is the best this year for Daytona, and we see all the teams participating this year. It will be a big challenge for us, but we will be on the track racing against the best. That’s all so good.”
The Roar test will bring together 20 Prototype and 30 GT cars (nine GT Le Mans, 21 GT Daytona). A 75-minute pening combined practice for the WeatherTech Championship competitors is set for 11 a.m. ET on Friday, with a second two-hour session from 3:30-5:30 p.m.
The Rolex 24 will be Alonso’s second iconic American event in less than a year. Does he have any ambitions to compete in Daytona’s other major race, NASCAR’s Daytona 500?
“Not yet, I think that’s a very different driving technique,” he said. “The NASCAR cars are unique in the way they drive, so no thoughts at the moment. But Indianapolis in May, the U.S. Grand Prix in October [at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas] and now the Daytona 24, it means in the last six or seven months I’ve been in America three times for three big events. That puts a smile on my face.”