Of all the young competitors taking part in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona (January 24th-25th), American Gustavo Menezes will be one to keep an eye on.
The 20 year old from California will pilot the #11 Rocketsports Racing (RSR) Oreca-Chevrolet FLM09 alongside Chris Cumming, Bruno Junqueira and current IndyCar driver Jack Hawksworth.
Menezes, who partnered Max Verstappen at Van Amersfoot Racing last season, was a late addition to the RSR line up having expected to race solely in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship this year with Carlin. However, after a quick phone call from RSR team manager Paul Gentilozzi Menezes was on his way to Daytona to complete the team’s four-man crew and participate in the Roar Before the Rolex 24.
“I’m thrilled to have been invited back to Daytona again this year,” Menezes said. “I was at home training for my [second] European F3 season when I received the call, so it came as quite a surprise and it should be a lot of fun!
“The Rolex 24 at Daytona is one of the biggest races in the world, never mind just the United States. It carries tremendous kudos, and it’s really positive for me to be able to dip my toe into the water in prototypes from an experience point-of-view.”
At the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, Menezes was given plenty of track time to reacquaint himself with the 5.7km circuit that he last visited this time last year. The RSR car ran well throughout the weekend, setting the fastest time in the first and fifth sessions. For Menezes, the test provided a welcome opportunity to rediscover the car and to reflect on the challenges of sportscar racing.
“Racing in January helps to keep your reflexes sharp and your fitness levels up during the off-season. I learned a lot there last year, and I’m returning this time as a much more mature driver,” Menezes explained.
“One of the key elements in endurance racing is nurturing the car so it maintains its pace and reliability over such a long distance. Strategy plays a major role, and with more than 50 cars on the track all at the same time, you’re either overtaking or being overtaken pretty much every lap so you can’t afford to take any unnecessary risks in the traffic.”
Although he is focusing largely on his open wheel career Menezes is no stranger to American endurance racing, and is happy to gain experience in order to diversify and raise his stock. He made his sportscar debut for RSR at Petit Le Mans in 2013, which prompted a maiden drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona just three months later.
While an accident ended RSR’s race prematurely last year, Menezes had performed well enough to persuade Gentilozzi to bring him back for 2015. With so much to offer, the young Californian should turn plenty of heads when he makes his second competitive outing in the Rolex 24.
“I’m optimistic that we can have a good run, and the target is definitely to go for the class win. I’m hugely excited about the race, I’ve got nothing to lose – and I really want to come away with a Daytona Rolex watch!”