Rolex's mix of talent is strong
The field's depth is outstanding.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon? Check.
IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr.? Check.
Former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya? Check.
It's a who's who of auto racing for today's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
And there they were Friday, millions of dollars' worth of auto-racing talent, sitting on a concrete wall -- NASCAR champions Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte, alongside open-wheel stars Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Paul Tracy, Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon. Not to mention Montoya, who's making the big jump to NASCAR this year.
They, plus a few other big names -- such as NASCAR's Tony Stewart and Champ Car's Jimmy Vasser -- neither of whom made the all-star Victory Circle photo op Friday -- will take part in the twice-around-the-clock endurance battle, which begins today at 1:30 p.m.
"Phew, this is some company to be in," said Jorg Bergmeister, one of the road-racing stars rubbing shoulders with the big-name visitors in Victory Circle.
Last year, the German driver became the only driver to win championships in both American sports cars series -- Grand Am and the competing American Le Mans Series.
It's the season-opener for everyone, and the starting lineup will include about 70 cars in two classes.
Montoya, whose previous endurance experience consists of some 12-hour go-kart races and a couple of six-hour events more than 10 years ago in his native Colombia, is getting used to trying new things.
He's about to begin his first full season of stock-car racing for his one-time open-wheel boss Chip Ganassi, who owns the Lexus Riley Daytona Prototype that Montoya will share this weekend with defending Grand Am champion Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran of Mexico.
One big difference for Montoya and the other big-name drivers in the race is sharing the responsibility.
"You don't want to be the guy that causes the problem," Montoya said. "You've got to learn that you win together and you lose together. I think races like this build great driver relationships."
Endurance racing isn't necessarily head-to-head racing like NASCAR and open-wheel.
"The thing is you never know who you're really racing against here," Montoya explained. "You get in the car, and it could be any of the drivers on that team. You're not really racing against any of those guys anyway."
Still, it's quite the field.
"The depth of the field here this year, I think, is second to none," said Hornish, who won the Indianapolis 500 and the Indy Racing League championship in 2006.
"This race would be prestigious to win even if there were only two other guys that were big names," Hornish said. "But, if you look at the fact that you have IndyCar champions from the past six years or more, Indy 500 winners, Cup champions, Daytona 500 winners, Brickyard 400 winners, the amount of people that are in this field that would draw a crowd by themselves, that's pretty neat. And it makes it a really great challenge."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.