One of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ longtime stars and one of its most promising rookies both added a prestigious new line to their career resume Sunday – Rolex 24 At Daytona winner.
Two-time series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Josef Newgarden was part of the overall winning Porsche Penske Motorsport Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) team in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway, while 2023 INDY NXT by Firestone champion and 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Christian Rasmussen led Era Motorsport to victory in the Le Mans Prototype (LMP2) class.
Newgarden joined Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron and Matt Campbell in the winning No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963. Nasr resisted intense pressure over the closing 30 minutes from NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Tom Blomqvist, who won this race in 2022 and 2023 with Meyer Shank Racing.
This was the fifth consecutive year an active NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver earned an overall victory and a coveted Rolex watch in this sports car racing endurance classic. Newgarden joins Scott Dixon in 2020, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi in 2021, and Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud in 2022 and 2023.
“Look, I just showed up; that’s all I did,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know what to say. Porsche and Team Penske, they delivered the biggest result. Felipe, the way he drove at the end, Matt Campbell – these guys won this race. I was just happy to be here.
“What an unbelievable group, though. They’re going to cherish this for a long time. I think you’ve got to talk to RP (Roger Penske). I think he was crying up there on the pit stand.”
The victory made plenty of history. Newgarden became just the fifth reigning Indy 500 winner to capture the Rolex 24, joining Arie Luyendyk in 1998, Dan Wheldon in 2006, Dario Franchitti in 2008 and Castroneves in 2022.
This also was the first Rolex 24 victory for Team Penske since Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons drove a Lola T70 to overall victory in 1969 – a gap of 55 years. It also was the first win for Porsche in the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic since 2003.
“When you think about 1969 when we won with a Lola, things were a lot different those days,” team owner Roger Penske said. “Obviously, for Porsche to give us the equipment and the drivers at the end there, with Felipe. But just to see the competitiveness, and six- or seven-tenths of a second was the difference after 24 hours. That’s unbelievable.”
Team Penske’s winning roll continued. The team won the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series title in 2023 and opened this season with a victory in North America’s most prestigious sports car race.
Nasr built an 18-second lead before the second-to-last caution, just over 19 hours into the 24-hour race. Then a green-flag stretch of three hours, 42 minutes unfolded, during which Blomqvist leapfrogged to the lead after the second-to-last set of pit stops.
Brazilian Nasr then grabbed the lead again at the final stops, which came during the final full-course caution of the race, with 52 minutes remaining. The Porsche took on less energy at the stop than the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R shared by Blomqvist, pole sitter Pipo Derani and Jack Aitken.
Then a ferocious fight for victory was unleashed after the final restart with 32 minutes remaining. Blomqvist was relentless with his pressure of Nasr, including turning the quickest lap of the race, 1 minute, 35.554 seconds.
But Nasr negotiated lapped traffic deftly and never gave Blomqvist a chance, winning by 2.112 seconds.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES star Colton Herta was a member of the third-place team driving the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06. Just 15.387 seconds separated the top four cars in the race – all GTP machines – after 24 hours of competition on the 3.56-mile road course that includes part of Daytona’s high-banked oval.
Rasmussen drove to victory in the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA LMP 2 07 along with teammates Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel and Connor Zilisch. Rasmussen was behind the wheel when the team beat the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA of George Kurtz, Colin Braun, Malthe Jakobsen and Toby Sowery to the finish by 6.8 seconds.
The No. 18 Era and No. 04 CrowdStrike cars emerged from the overnight hours as the top two cars in the LMP2 class, swapping the lead over the last six hours.
Rasmussen and Jakobsen were behind the wheel of their respective machines after the final caution inside of the last hour of the race, which erased a lead of more than 10 seconds for Rasmussen. But Rasmussen gradually pulled a gap after the restart with 32 minutes remaining and eased away for one of the biggest wins of his young career.
“Yeah, they were definitely the car to beat for us,” Rasmussen said of the No. 04 car. “We knew we had, I think, a slight advantage over them, so it was really about whenever we still had four or five hours left, it was just about keeping our noses clean and being there at the end.
“Then the last stint, it came down to a caution, and I had a huge gap from I think like 15 seconds, and then obviously all of that disappeared. But I felt fairly confident. I was just slowly pulling away right before, so I kind of knew that we had the pace to do it.
“It was just about getting away from the start, which I did well, and then pulled out a two-second gap and just kind of managed it from there.”