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Jimmie Begins ‘Retirement’ With 24-Hour Drive

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2021

Jimmie Johnson will be driving in this weekend’s Rolex 24 in a prototype.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Rolex 24 starting field will roll to the green flag this afternoon in Daytona for the start of the 2021 race that marks the beginning of the racing season.

Among the interesting story lines are:

– Applying term “retired” to Jimmie Johnson in the wake of his decision to step away from the NASCAR Cup Series following the 2020 season would not be accurate.

The seven-time Cup champ will remain busy in racing. Super busy. Busiest.

That became known when he quickly announced his decision to compete in the IndyCar Series in 2021 for owner Chip Ganassi.

But before that gets rolling, there is a stop at the Daytona International Speedway infield road course.

This weekend the California native will be sharing the wheel of No. 48 Cadillac DPi with Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, two-time Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and veteran sports car ace Mike Rockenfeller.

“(My wife) Chandi and I joke all the time,” Johnson said, “here we thought I was slowing down and it’s been way busier than I’ve ever experienced for a standard November to January.”

This will be Johnson’s eighth start in the 24. The last came in 2011 when he teamed with Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the prototype class.

“I think Jimmie is still motivated by racing – maybe not by NASCAR, but just by racing different cars,” Kobayashi said. “I’m very happy to be part of his program with the Ally Cadillac. With Simon and Mike, it’s great because we have someone who won the IndyCar championship (Pagenaud) and someone who won the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, Rockenfeller). With people coming from all these categories, it shows what a big and competitive championship the IMSA WeatherTech (Championship) has become.”

At Johnson’s side this weekend will be Chad Knaus, the crew chief with whom Johnson won all seven of his championships for Hendrick Motorsports.

“It’s awesome, Johnson said. “There’s nothing weird about it and it’s very meaningful to me and I know it is to him, to be back working together. It’s been awesome and I’m really, really excited about it.’’

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– Robert Kubica, who put in five years worth of work in Formula 1 cockpits, will take to the 24 as an event rookie.

The Polish born Kubica will join Anders Fjordbach, Dennis Andersen and Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen in the No. 20 ORECA LMP2 07 for the race.

The 24 gig came together late and unexpectedly

“To be honest,” he said, “I wasn’t thinking I would come because I felt like I needed to rest,” Kubica said. “But then I had a phone call from Anders. We knew each other from four or five years ago. He offered for me to come here and help out. At the beginning, I was not so convinced (because) I was exhausted, but I think it’s a great opportunity for me, and I’m happy I’m here.”

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– To the surprise of many last year, iconic Team Penske and Acura broke off their IMSA relationship after numerous successes together.

While Penske is absent from this year’s 24, the Acura ARX prototypes are not.

Penske had fielded two Acuras in years past and had such star drivers as Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves behind the wheels.

The year’s Acura premier division DPi prototypes will be split between two teams – Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing.

The No. 60 Shank entry will be driven by Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla, Montoya and AJ Allmendinger. That Acura will start fourth overall on Saturday

The No. 10 Wayne Taylor ride will be driven by Felipe Albuquerque, Castronevers, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi. That car qualified fifth.

“I feel as if we have a car now that is competitive enough to win the race,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “It’s been a pleasure to receive such great support from HPD, 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.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2021
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