The Rolex 24 At Daytona features an informal tradition of sorts every year with some incredibly young drivers partaking in IMSA’s longest race. At times, it has also felt like a gimmick, but in the case of Canadian teenager Roman De Angelis, his presence at Daytona International Speedway this week is anything but a promotional stunt.
In fact, the 18-year-old serves as one of IMSA’s most decorated up-and-coming stars, having completed the ultra-rare challenge of winning the Porsche GT3 Cup USA and Porsche GT3 Cup Canada titles in the same season. The Toronto-area native is returning to the Rolex 24 for his second attempt at winning the series’ longest race, which is steeped in long odds due to the nature of the new opportunity in front of De Angelis.
Signed to a full-time drive with the brand-new The Heart of Racing team in its equally new Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the expectations for the outfit are understandably modest as it enters its first WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. For De Angelis, who makes his full-time debut as a professional race car driver with THoR, the realization of a dream comes with the job.
“As someone in my position, it’s something that I’ve always wants to do my whole life,” he tells RACER. “It’s always a dream of mine to be racing in GT; that was always a class that I admired. I love sports car racing. And when I got the call to even do the GT3 cup series back in 2017, that was something that already blew my mind, just to be able to be competing in a series that had so much passion for and so much love for. I guess everything kind of just fell into place more perfectly than I expected.”
As the son of a racer who drove in IMSA’s prototype training categories, De Angelis has a healthy appreciation for the opportunity he’s been given by THoR’s team ownership group, and driver/team principal Ian James. His father’s career was limited to the lower rungs of the sport which, in an unexpected way, has shaped the teenager’s view of whatever lies ahead in the WeatherTech Championship.
“I feel a bit of pressure to perform, but I’m looking at this chance in a different aspect, I think, than most,” he says. “I mean, you never really know how many more race weekends, or how many more years in a race car, you’ll have. Somebody could bump you out pretty quickly. So I’m just trying to take it all in and have the most fun I can, doing what I love for the longest amount of time possible. I always perform better when I’m having fun and enjoying it, so hopefully, it all adds up and I do well.”
As De Angelis embarks on a new chapter in life inside the No. 23 THoR Aston Martin Vantage GT3, he’ll also close an important one as the final months of his freshman year at university are completed at home in Canada. Juggling racing and education has been difficult, as it is for every young driver, but De Angelis credits the experience for accelerating his multitasking skills.
“I wouldn’t be complaining too much if all I had to do is race cars every day for the rest of my life, if it was that simple,” he says. “But school has been important for me, and it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed. I think school has also helped me in racing quite a lot. Just managing time; it’s a massive commitment to do one or the other, let alone doing both. I’m studying engineering now, which is something that has a lot of correlation to racing itself. It’d be pretty cool to be able to build on what I know now in racing and help me with school and vice versa. I had to miss a lot of school days last year with all the Porsche Cup racing, and the teachers didn’t really like me too much, but I passed everything, so that’s important.”
Setting expectations for a new car and team combination is always a challenge for Rolex 24 entrants. With an Aston Martin to tune at North American circuits, and a pit crew to hone in competition, The Heart of Racing will have more work to do this weekend than many of its GTD rivals.
“It’s actually a positive for me to go into a team that’s new, I think,” De Angelis says. “I have very minimal experience in a GT3 car. And the only experience I have with ABS and traction control is with the GT3 car experience I have, which is very minimal. I think being able to learn a new car with a team that’s also learning a new car is something that’s really nice. Because you feel a lot of pressure in general, as an 18-year-old hopping into a full-time ride and with such amazing factory support and stuff like that, but if I were to hop into a team that won a championship the year before, it’s a lot of pressure also.
“I think it’s going to be a learning curve, massive learning curve. Not only for me, but also for the team. But we’re going to look to make it as short as possible, and we’re all there to win races. That’s what we’d like to do. But we really want to go out there and be successful and that’s what we all itch for, is to win. So definitely not going out there trying to just do well, we want to go out there and put out some good results, too. It’s going to be a massive learning curve, but we’ll take what we can get.”
A podium finisher in the GT Daytona class on his Rolex 24 debut in 2019, De Angelis hopes to learn from his proven trio of teammates who’ve led the same kind of long and distinguished careers he wants to emulate. Along with James, he’ll have Alex Riberas and factory Aston Martin driver Nicki Thiim to act as teammates and mentors.
“I think the keyword for Daytona this year is just going to be learning,” he says. “I’m trying to take in as much information as I can from these guys. They have so much experience in GT3 cars and then racing in general. You know, Nicki and Ian have so many years on me and so much experience in racing that, I got to take everything I can from them. And Alex with his experience in Europe and how good his results have been early on. Just take everything I can from them, based on data, video, stuff like that.
“And I think a big thing for Daytona, is I did it last year and I was also with Ian. Ian really helped me a lot, not only to get this opportunity this year, but help me a lot last year in Daytona. I think last year… it was his 19th Daytona or something, and my first. I went in with all the nerves in the world possible, and he was probably one of the calmest guys there.
“He helped me a lot, just to understand that as a young driver you don’t want to get thrown all the way in one weekend. Just keep everything underneath you and you’ll be there in the end like we were. I think no matter what, I’ll always be learning and to have guys with that much experience, like Ian, Nicki, and Alex have done, makes it a pretty good tool to grow.”