Ganassi team sets sights on back-to-back Rolex 24 at Daytona wins

Ralph N. Paulk
| Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, 9:42 p.m.

Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi has put together the best of his drivers from the Sprint Cup and IndyCar circuits to pursue another victory in the 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway this weekend.

Ganassi's No. 1 team — Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson — will begin its quest for back-to-back victories against many of the world's best drivers in a grueling marathon that begins at 2:40 p.m. Saturday.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won the race a record six times. He has won with several drivers, including Scott Pruett, whose five wins are tied for the most with Hurley Haywood. Ganassi will have 14 drivers competing in four Ford cars.

For 23-year-old Larson, this isn't a tune up for next month's Daytona 500. It's a chance to cement Ganassi's dominance at Daytona.

“We're in the car for 24 hours straight, but it's not much different than a Cup race for me,” Larson said. “I'm the fourth-string driver on the team, so I'm only in the car for about 4-5 hours.

“Mentally, I try to be as cautious as I can be before handing the car over to whomever the next guy is the way I received it. I don't want to damage it. I have to do my job and not do anything stupid.”

Ganassi's only demand of Larson will be to keep the No. 02 Ford GT in contention against a crowded field of teams vying for one of the most coveted prizes in motorsports.

Larson is expected to be the anchor driver in the first rotation — or the first 12 hours. Dixon is expected to lead off, followed by McMurray and Kanaan. Larson likely will take over about 11 p.m.

“The thing that is different about this race is the car doesn't fit any of the drivers,” said McMurray, who won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010. “It has somewhat of a universal seat. So after three or four hours in the car, your back hurts.

“It's certainly a lot more tiring than any other race we run. When it's over, you're pretty much exhausted. But you can't approach the race any differently than others.”

Dixon, who captured the 2015 IndyCar championship, will try to deliver Ganassi his eighth victory in Daytona when he climbs into the car shortly before noon Sunday.

“You really can't have any egos when you run the 24-hour race,” Larson said. “One guy is definitely going to be the best, but you have to do your job. It's nice to have really good teammates.”

Larson, beginning his third season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, fits comfortably with a Rolex team that has combined to win two Indianapolis 500s, a Daytona 500 and four IndyCar championships.

“It's great being around Jamie all year long, because I've learned a ton off of him,” Larson said. “In the time I'm around Scott and Tony, it's cool hearing them tell stories about races in the past. In this race, you get to witness how good they are in a race car. I think Scott and Tony feel stuff in the car that we don't even notice.”

At 39, McMurray still is learning. And he's learning more about he has competed in several times.

“I look forward to doing this every year because we're ready to get back in the car,” said McMurray, who along with A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti are the only drivers to win the Rolex 24 Hour and Daytona 500.

“It was awesome to win this race last year. So we're confident we can win it again.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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