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Champ Elliott Behind The Wheel Of His New Caddy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2021

NASCAR champion Chase Elliott is back on the road this weekend in Daytona.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

NASCAR’s reigning road-course king will compete as a rookie again this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, where Chase Elliott has embraced the challenge of world-class endurance sports car racing.

Elliott is sharing the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R that will start on-pole Saturday afternoon in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s season-opening 59th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“It’s one of those races I’ve always respected and admired, and you always hear everybody talking about it,” said Elliott, who clinched his first NASCAR Cup Series championship in November. “It’s an event that I feel a lot of NASCAR guys have done over the years whenever they have the opportunity. So kind of growing up around NASCAR, you admire that, you see that. So those things made me realize that, ‘Hey, if I ever have a chance one day to go do this, I want to go do that.”

The No. 31 Caddy features fulltime WeatherTech Championship drivers Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr, both of Brazil, and World Endurance Championship ace Mike Conway of the United Kingdom. Action Express Racing is seeking a fourth overall Rolex 24 victory and first for the No. 31 Whelen program. The team earned P1 by winning the Motul Pole Award 100-minute qualifying race last Sunday on DIS’ 3.56-mile “roval” incorporating sections of the famed, high-banked/2.5-mile oval.

The Rolex 24 will close-out a busy and varied racing offseason for Elliott, who made his debut in the Chili Bowl Nationals _ the “Super Bowl of Midget Racing” _ earlier this month in Tulsa, Okla. Elliott is switching from the quarter-mile clay surface at River Spirt Expo Center to the winding DIS layout, site of his fifth and most recent road-course victory last fall during the Cup Series’ revised/COVID-19-impacted schedule.

Chase Elliott and all his Cup Series hardware. He hopes to add a wrist watch this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

“For me, I just felt like I wanted to try different things,” said Elliott, the 25-year-old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. “I’m still fairly young, in my 20s. I think as you get older, it just gets harder to learn new disciplines. I think while I’m at the stage I’m at, I’d like to step into other areas and learn different things.

“I think the more diverse you can be, the better you’ll be at the end of the day and the more equipped you’re going to be down the road. Just trying to learn as much as I can at the age I’m at. It’s a good time to do these things. I have good opportunities to go do them, so why not?”

Coming off a highly successful test weekend and their pole-winning effort, the Whelen Engineering drivers are focused on winning the Rolex 24. NBC’s live coverage will begin at 3:30 p.m. (EST) with the green flag scheduled for 3:40 p.m.

Whelen Engineering is looking to capture its third Rolex 24 at Daytona (2010 and 2014), while Derani hopes to celebrate his second Rolex 24 win (2016).

“It’s great to be back for another year and to start the year off winning the pole position for the biggest race of the year is a positive,” Derani said. “Every time we go on-track, we show everything we have. We go racing. But there’s still a lot of work to do this weekend. We’re going to start on the pole, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a 24-hour race. For us, we’ve got to control the things we can.

“I’m really happy to back for another year with Whelen Engineering, Cadillac, and Action Express Racing. To be sharing the car with Felipe again, for the third year, I think the partnership has been getting better and better. Mike is no stranger. He was with us at the Rolex last year and has been with the team for a number of years. He’s a great addition _ a very professional guy. He gets the job done.

“And Chase, what a fantastic opportunity for us to have the current NASCAR champion join us this year for the biggest race in our championship. I think Chase has been doing a fantastic job. It’s never easy to come from such a different discipline into the sports car world. But I think he is adapting really quickly especially with having limited time in the car. This weekend, we’re going to try to help him even more so he can hit the ground running in the race. He’s a talented guy. You don’t win a championship like he did last year if you don’t have a tremendous amount of talent. Hopefully, the four of us can share a fantastic win Sunday afternoon.”

Despite having won four consecutive NASCAR road-course events, Elliott acknowledged the Cadillac Prototype is markedly different from his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

“Last weekend, it was all about trying to get up to speed,” Elliott said. “These cars are very different. The performance under braking _ specifically _ and the amount of corner speed you can carry is much different than what I’m used to seeing visually sitting in the car.

“Finding that new realm of reality has been a challenge for me. It felt very foreign on my first day. The fun thing was, during night practice, I started to make some progress. I started getting closer to the limit of the car. And, as I started to feel that, I felt like things started feeling like a race car. When it starts to feel like a race car, I feel like things are more universal _ from NASCAR to sports cars. I’m just pushing myself to find those limits. I’m having a blast.”

Meanwhile, reigning/two-time Rolex 24 winner Wayne Taylor Racing has joined two-time Acura GTD series champ and 2012 Rolex winner Meyer Shank Racing in Acura ARX-05 Prototypes. Dane Cameron and Olivier Pla will start fourth in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura while Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor qualified fifth in the No. 10 WTR Acura.

“We’re really happy where the car is right now from a handling/balance perspective,” said Shank, whose organization has returned to Prototypes after racing in GT Daytona the past two years and winning the 2019-20 championships. “All the drivers like the car, and they’re all incredibly fast.  I don’t think we could be happier at this point. We even had time to practice some ‘bad scenario’ pit stops _ what to do if things go wrong during the race. To have that kind of relaxation is really valuable going into the race. We’re ready.”

Wayne Taylor Racing won the Rolex 24 in 2017, 2019 and 2020 with the Cadillac program.

“I think relative to the (qualifying) race last weekend, we’ve improved quite a bit,” team-owner Taylor said. “I feel as if we have a car now that is competitive enough to win the race. It’s been a pleasure to receive such great support from HPD (Honda Performance Development), it just pushes all of us to do a better job.  Obviously, lots of things can happen during the course of a 24-hour race, but I’ll put our four drivers up against any other lineup in the field.  They’ve got the experience and the knowledge, and there’s no egos involved at all. So now we’re just waiting for the start, but we’re going into the race feeling good.”

Friday’s final one-hour practice saw Cadillacs place 1-2. Loic Duval was quickest with a lap of 1-minute, 35.085-seconds in the No. 5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R. Formula One veteran Kevin Magnussen ran second in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac. Magnussen has joined co-drivers Renger van der Zande and six-time/reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon this weekend.

Third-fast was Oliver Jarvis in the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Jarvis completed only five laps during the session in a car plagued Thursday by engine and gearbox issues. Albuquerque was fourth-fastest in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05.

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Corvette Racing claimed first and second in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) category during last Sunday’s qualifying race, as Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims won in their debuts with the GM factory team.

Tandy, Sims and Tommy Milner will share the No. 4 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R. The Roar Before the 24 test weekend also saw Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg earn P2 in the No. 3 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Corvette. They will drive with Antonio Garcia during the Rolex 24.

Tandy won P1 by 12 seconds over Catsburg, wrapping up three days of testing and development for the mid-engine C8.R. Corvette Racing is a three-time winner of the Rolex 24 _ including the overall victory in 2001 and back to-back GTLM wins in 2015-16. A year ago, the team debuted the C8.R with a fourth-place finish for Garcia, Taylor and Catsburg as the No. 3 entry recorded more miles than any Corvette in the race’s history.

“Everyone wants to start the Rolex 24 from pole position, and we got to do this in a pressure situation and run through all the procedures,” Tandy said. “The Corvette was great. We’ve been working through a program as normal. Even working with the strategists and things like this is something we don’t expect to go through before our first race with a new program.”

Tandy, of Bedford, England, has replaced Oliver Gavin, who stepped away from fulltime driving after 19 years with the program. Tandy has joined a full-season lineup that boasts nine IMSA Drivers Championships and 42 race wins with Corvette Racing.

Tandy owns 15 career IMSA victories _ all in GT racing _ and has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. He also is a past overall winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and the 24 Hours of Spa.

Sims, of Alcester, England, is a five-time winner in IMSA competition during a two-year, full-season stint in 2017 and 2018. He owns a victory at Petit Le Mans along with 24-hour wins at Spa and the Nürburgring, as well as two career starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“It was an interesting first taste of the conditions in the Corvette,” Sims said. “Very quickly, I was given a lot of confidence from the car as to how to push. I was able to get around the BMWs on the first lap and then really just find my feet lap-by-lap. With the couple of cautions, it didn’t feel like there was a huge amount of laps but nevertheless it was nice to get some experience in the wet and get a feeling for how the C8.R was working.

“Doing a hot pit stop under a reasonable amount of time pressure was nice; not a lot of the race had gone so we didn’t need to fuel up too much. It was nice to go through all the procedures and have a taste of it before the 24 Hours.”

The British pair join Milner, now Corvette Racing’s most experienced full-season driver. The two-time IMSA Drivers Champion has 15 victories with the program including wins at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, among others. Milner, who has played a key role in testing and development of the C8.R, will begin his 10th year with Corvette Racing this weekend.

In the No. 3 Corvette, Garcia and Taylor earned five victories and combed for six poles during the 2020 GTLM season. The pair won for the first time at Daytona in July for Corvette Racing’s 100th IMSA victory. Garcia won his fourth Drivers Championship in 2020 while Taylor captured his third Drivers title. Both are past winners at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. Catsburg returns to the cockpit following a season in which he won the Nurburgring 24 Hours, among other high-profile events.

The mid-engine Corvette C8.R won six races and swept the full-season GTLM championship in 2020. In addition, the C8.R claimed seven poles and posted fastest GTLM race lap at six events. The C8.R and Corvette Stingray street car have been developed simultaneously, with the race car and production vehicle sharing more technology and parts than any previous-generation Corvette.

Friday’s final GTLM practice was paced by Alessandro Pier Guidi at 1-minute, 42.584-seconds in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Kevin Estre placed second in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19, with Milner third in the No. 4 Corvette C8.R.

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Television coverage of the Rolex 24 at Daytona starts Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (EST) on NBC, and continues on NBC Sports Network from 4:30-8 p.m.; 11 p.m.-3 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m.- 2 p.m Sunday. Coverage concludes with the final two hours on NBC from 2-4 p.m. Sunday. Live flag-to-flag coverage also will be available on the NBC Sports App and NBCSN Gold with NBCSN Trackpass authentication.

Fans can listen to audio commentary via IMSA.comRadioLeMans.com and Sirius 216, XM 202 and SiriusXM Online 972. Fans also can follow live via in-car cameras, IMSA Radio and timing & scoring available worldwide on IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile device App.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2021
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