Daytona Saturday Notebook

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

***Former NASCAR Cup Series crew chief and current Hendrick Motorsports VP of competition Chad Knaus is “engrained into the [No. 48] team” according to Jimmie Johnson. Knaus has been assisting Action Express Racing technical director Iain Watt on the engineering side of the Cadillac DPi-V.R squad, which includes other Hendrick crew.

***Johnson said that he’s had his “busiest winter” yet between pre-season testing for both the Rolex 24 and NTT IndyCar Series season as well as testing in a F3 car in preparation for his open-wheel debut.  “All three cars are really different,” he said. “They each have little nuances that extract lap speed out of them. Yesterday I spent time trying to get the IndyCar aggression out and try to figure out how to finesse this car a bit more.”

***Johnson’s connection to co-driver Mike Rockenfeller dates back to 2011 when the NASCAR legend emailed the German following his horrific accident in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two admitted they never thought they’d one day share a car together.

***Saturday’s qualifying session for the first-ever qualifying race will not count within IMSA’s record book for pole positions although the session counted for the purpose of track records.

***Several teams have raised concerns over tomorrow’s qualifying race and the potential risks and costs at play. One LMP2 team owner told Sportscar365 they will take a “very, very cautious” approach to the 100-minute race specifically due to the lack of spares available on-site due to a higher-than-expected off-season demand for parts.

***Sportscar365 understands there are only two spare Oreca 07 Gibson chassis in Florida, one being PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ second car that is on-site, as well as Performance Tech’s car that it had utilized in recent seasons.

***Felipe Nasr admitted that he probably knew that Chase Elliott had a ride for the Rolex 24 before the NASCAR star found out himself, following mid-season discussions with Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson, who had come up with the idea of putting the Hendrick driver in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi.

***The Brazilian attended two of Elliott’s wins in the NASCAR Cup Series last year, at the Daytona Road Course and Charlotte Roval races. Season-long co-driver Pipo Derani was also present for the race in Daytona.

***Among the changes to the event will be a “virtual pre-race ceremonies” for next Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season-opener, although the Rolex 24 will have its traditional live pre-race show, but without fans on the grid. IMSA’s VIP grid walk, which was trialled at some post-COVID events last year, will not occur at Daytona.

***The No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R is a brand-new chassis after its Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring class-winning car was retired to sponsor 1st Phorm at its headquarters in Fenton, Mo.

***Ryan Hardwick said he posed the initial question of expanding his racing efforts into Pilot Challenge after seeing a number of his Bronze/Silver-rated competitors racing in the series last year. “It initially came from me,” Hardwick said. “John got with the guys at Porsche Motorsport North America and we all sat down at Sebring.”

***Hardwick’s GTD co-driver Patrick Long said he feels a sense of “partial ownership” in the fact that more Porsches are on the GTD grid this year, thanks to their results from last year, often being the lone representative from the brand. There are at least three full-season entries, including Wright Motorsports, this season, with the potential of a fourth for Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge starting at Sebring.

***Veteran Porsche engineer Owen Hayes is working with Team Hardpoint EBM this year, as part of the team’s increased commitment to the German manufacturer that will include multiple entries in the new Porsche Carrera Cup North America.

***The No. 44 Magnus with Archangel Acura NSX GT3 Evo is sporting a special livery in tribute to “Speed Racer” this weekend. The white and grey car is complete with a red dot on the side of the car. 

***NTE Sport has “every inclination” to run the full Michelin Endurance Cup with its Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo according to JR Hildebrand, who is making his Rolex 24 debut. “I think for all of us right now is to be focused here on this event but would love to do more of it and build on the experience,” he said.

***Pfaff Motorsports could end up relocating temporarily to the U.S. according to driver Zach Robichon, who said “nothing’s off the table” in terms of the Canadian team’s options amid continued COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

“The issue with us is going home,” Robichon explained. “There’s some gray areas on what’s allowed and what’s not allowed but it usually means a two-week quarantine. It doesn’t look like that will change but we’ve taken the steps to accommodate it.”

***Rob Hodes and Garrett Grist have been confirmed at DragonSpeed for the full Endurance Cup season according to team principal Elton Julian, who said it’s undecided whether IndyCar rising star Rinus Veekay or Ben Hanley will be in the No. 81 Oreca for the three remaining races.

***Julian hasn’t ruled out running his second LMP2 entry at Sebring in the wake of Friday’s news that the WEC season opener has been moved to Portimao.

***DragonSpeed hasn’t also ruled out a potential entry into the European Le Mans Series alongside its single WEC car, featuring Juan Pablo Montoya. The Barcelona-based team sold its Dallara IndyCar chassis to Meyer Shank Racing and is set to focus exclusively on LMP2 racing this year.

“COVID basically kicked us back to 2018,” Julian told Sportscar365. “And in 2018 we weren’t in IndyCar; we were winning in ELMS.”

***IndyCar refugee Zach Veach said that he has ambitions to expand into other forms of motorsports in the years to come, with plans in place to run ten winged sprint car races in the midwest this year alongside his full-season commitments in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3.

***The 26-year-old, who recently moved to Charlotte to be closer to the team’s shop, is slated to be sharing his apartment with Jack Hawksworth when the UK-based driver is in the U.S. for several long stretches of the year.

***Kenny Habul has purchased a major property on the Mt. Panorama circuit in Bathurst. The U.S.-based Australian, who is making his Rolex 24, now owns 489 Conrod Straight, a 17-acre estate that had been in the same family for almost a century.

***Newly minted Corvette factory driver Alexander Sims is partnering with the Heart of England charity to support its conservation initiatives. The Englishman will make a donation to mitigate the 20 tons of carbon dioxide produced by his air travel to endurance events throughout the season, along with the anticipated 5,000 liters of fuel that will be used during testing and races.

***The Alegra Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo suffered light damage in an accident during qualifying but is expected to be repaired in time to take part in night practice.

Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report

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