DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The rules are set, the classes — as cluttered as they may be — decided and the future of North American road racing is finally here.
Some 15 months after the merger of the Grand-AM and American Le Mans Series, the consolidated product will at last hit the track Saturday for the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona. The inaugural event for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will mark the first time sports cars in North America have been unified since 1997.
There are 67 cars across four classes scheduled to take the green flag for the twice-around-the-clock endurance race. While everyone is eager to see the unified series in action, even the most seasoned teams and drivers aren't sure what to expect.
"This sport is ready to put on a great show for a huge audience and we are very excited for what is next with the United SportsCar Championship," said Michael Shank, team owner of the 2012 winning team. "There are so many unknowns with the new rules and all the new classes, it is little bit like the first time for us."
Shank will be back with his 2012 winning lineup of Justin Wilson, racing for the first time since he was injured in the IndyCar season finale in October, AJ Allmendinger, John Pew and Oswaldo Negri Jr. in the Prototype (P) class. The class is comprised of the former Daytona Prototype class from Grand-AM, as well as the P2 class and the DeltaWing from ALMS.
The overall race winner will likely come from the P class, which also includes two entries from defending race winner Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ganassi has new faces for both of his lineups: He's paired Indy Lights champion and Rolex newcomer Sage Karam with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Jamie McMurray. Pruett last year tied Hurley Haywood's mark of five overall Rolex victories and is looking for the record this year.
"There's something magical about Daytona, and I love coming to race in the Rolex 24," Pruett said. "Especially with the coming together of both series, it will be the best of the best."
The second Ganassi entry has an entirely new look as holdover Scott Dixon has three new teammates. Among them are Marino Franchitti, who slides into the spot once held by older brother, Dario, who was forced to retire from racing in November because of injuries suffered in an IndyCar crash at Houston. Also in the lineup is Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who got Franchitti's IndyCar seat with Ganassi, and Kyle Larson, who replaced Juan Pablo Montoya in Ganassi's NASCAR's side of the organization.