January 29, 2016

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Chip Ganassi was asked during a meeting this week who was driving for him in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The team owner grabbed a piece of paper and began to jot down the names.

''It took me a few minutes to write them all down to make sure I had all the drivers,'' he said Friday.

Ganassi is putting forth a Herculean effort for this year's race. He is fielding four cars for 14 drivers in two different classes.

Add in the pressure that one of the cars, his No. 02 ''star car,'' is the defending race champion. It's in theory the last hurrah for one of the most celebrated cars in this prestigious race.

Ganassi is only fielding the No. 01 and No. 02 prototypes at Daytona because he is the defending race winner and because he had the cars in his inventory. After that, he will abandon the prototype class and focus on his newest endeavor - two-car, Ford GT production programs in both the GTLM class in the U.S. and the LM GTE Pro class in the FIA World Endurance Championship in Europe.

The change was made to give Ganassi his first chance to enter cars at Le Mans, and he is the cornerstone of Ford's return to the showcase event 50 years after the manufacturer went 1-2-3 with the GT40 in 1966. Ford repeated its winning performance at Le Mans with the GT40 from 1967 to 1969.

So this is the last shot for Ganassi to win the overall title at the Rolex, where the winning car is almost always from the Prototype class. Ganassi has a record six overall victories in twice-round-the-clock endurance race that begins Saturday afternoon.

Returning to defend last year's win in the ''star car'' are reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson.

The No. 01 will be driven by former Formula One and sports car racer Alex Wurz, 2015 WEC champion Brendon Hartley, three-time Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx and 17-year-old Lance Stroll.

In the GTLM class, the No. 66 will be driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais. The No. 67 entry will be driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Stefan Mucke. Both Hand and Bourdais are previous winners of the Rolex.

When the teams reported to Daytona International Speedway for January testing, Ganassi held his annual driver dinner and squeezed the entire lineup at one table.

''He's got a lot of pride in this event, especially this year having 14 drivers here,'' Larson said. ''That dinner he had ... you could see he was really excited to have us all at one table.''

It's a prestigious group of drivers with extensive resumes. And for Ganassi, who has won the Rolex 24, the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 in one calendar year, it's a chance to put four cars into the field at Le Mans and add that race to his resume.

''He's really proud. You can see how excited and proud he is that all of these drivers are driving for him on this weekend,'' McMurray said. ''No other owner in the world has this many guys from that many series who have won so many big races on one team.''

The prototype program will go away when the race concludes Sunday, and Ganassi's run of 41 overall sports car victories and five series championships will come to an end. His cars will instead race for class victories.

''The important people who need to know the difference between the Prototypes and the GTs, I don't think they take away from a win in GT versus Prototypes, a win is a win,'' Ganassi said.

It's unknown, though, if there will ever be another ''star car'' for Ganassi. He could add any combination of Dixon, Bourdais and Kanaan to the Le Mans lineups as the trio does not have any conflicts with IndyCar during that June race.

But as far as putting an all-star lineup together for another Rolex, nothing is certain. And even if the drivers do return, they would only be running for class victory and not the overall win.

''It's a blatant reality. All of us hope to be back, and at least we can say we've done it and won it,'' Dixon said. ''But all of us want to be part of this race, it's a great race, a great way to start the season. The last thing I want to see is it not happen.''

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