NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta will share the same sports car at the 60th Rolex 24 At Daytona this weekend, and it’s hard to say which of them is more excited about it.
The former Indy Lights teammates at Andretti Autosport – and briefly INDYCAR teammates at Harding Racing – said they expect this experience in DragonSpeed USA’s No. 81 Oreca LMP2 07 will take on new meaning as they compete for race wins and championships in top open-wheel racing.
“I think it’s going to be fun because we’re not really competing against others,” Herta said. “When we (Indy Lights) were teammates, we were 1-2 in the championship, so we competed quite a bit. So this is going to be cool.”
The DragonSpeed USA entry is co-driver of NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Devlin DeFrancesco of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport and Eric Lux, the regular DragonSpeed team.
O’Ward, 22, and Herta, 21, certainly have quite the histories, starting out as rivals in kart racing. In 2018 they were paired with Michael Andretti for the first time and together they won 13 of the 17 Indy Lights races with 12 poles. O’Ward won the championship with nine wins and nine poles, while Herta, held back by a broken thumb mid-season, finished second in the standings with four and three respectively.
Since joining INDYCAR, they have had remarkably similar success. Herta, who has 10 more starts, has won more races – six ahead of O’Ward’s two – with three more poles. But O’Ward has finished higher in the standings every year for the past two years. Last season, O’Ward finished third, Herta fifth.
O’Ward sees this venture as “a joining of forces” with the driver he calls his greatest rival.
“I think we have a shot at (victory), man,” he said of the 10-car LMP2 class, which DragonSpeed USA won in 2019 and 2020. “I’m very excited, and I know that he also is.
“We’ve always gone against each other and I know I’m making his life harder and he making my life harder. But this is going to be fun in a cool environment, and we’re going to really encourage each other.”
O’Ward led the first LMP2 practice Friday afternoon in wet conditions at Daytona International Speedway. His time in dry conditions at the end of the session was fastest overall – a rarity against the more powerful Daytona Prototype International (DPi) cars.
Both drivers have had success at Daytona. In 2017, O’Ward won the Prototype Challenge class on his Rolex 24 debut. In 2019, Herta was part of the winning GTLM entry with BMW.
Herta hopes to learn something from O’Ward.
“I want to see how his driving style has changed since 2018,” he said. “I know he likes his car, very loosely and everything, so it will be interesting to find some sort of balance between us for the set up for the full 24 hours.”
In total, this Rolex has 24 61 entries, the most for the event since 2014. Seven INDYCAR drivers are part of the seven-car DPi lineup. Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson are driving for Cadillac Racing while Jimmie Johnson is driving for Ally Cadillac again. For Acura, Alexander Rossi is part of the Konica Minolta entry, while Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud drive Curb-Agajanian for Meyer Shank Racing.
Like O’Ward and Herta, Rinus VeeKay drives in the LMP2 class for Racing Team Netherlands. Reigning Indy Lights champion and INDYCAR rookie Kyle Kirkwood has returned to the Vasser-Sullivan Lexus in the GTD Pro Class. There are also several Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires drivers in the field.
Live coverage of the season opening race of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Weekend broadcast schedule (all times East):
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM: NBC
4-7pm: US Network
10pm-3am: USA Network
3-6 hours: Peacock
6pm: USA Network
12:00pm – 2:00pm: NBC