The field also includes other Indy 500 winners, including Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay, and the 2016 IndyCar Series champion, Simon Pagenaud.
“We’ve always had the cars, and we have them now more than ever,” said Scott Atherton, the I.M.S.A. president. “But what we’ve added now is the star power of drivers. And not just the kind of drivers where you have to be a hard-core, card-carrying race fan to be aware of. That hasn’t been part of our equation. But now it is. All of the core elements have always been there. Now we’ve added this other dimension that’s going to take us to a whole new level.”
The Daytona race has always attracted fans worldwide because it has its own spot on the racing calendar. Alonso, 36, who drove in his first Indy 500 last year and plans to compete in only this sports-car race, has piqued more interest internationally.
The four-driver team that won last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona included none other than Jeff Gordon, the four-time Nascar champion who retired from full-time competition in 2015. Gordon, 45, joined A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray as drivers who have won both the Rolex 24 and the Daytona 500.
Sports-car racing, especially in endurance events, is quite different from IndyCar or stock-car racing. These cars race in bad weather and at night. Fourteen manufacturers, not just a few, are entered in the top race. And several classes race at the same time.
Fifty-five cars entered last year’s Rolex 24 on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona. About half of the entries were driven, at least in part, by amateurs, who are often referred to as “gentleman drivers.”
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