SST/World Challenge Round-up from Detroit and New Jersey

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Stadium Super Trucks and Pirelli World Challenge events that took place in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and New Jersey Motorsports Park. NBCSN will broadcast the Detroit PWC round on Sun., June 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET and the Detroit SST round on Fri., June 20 at 1:30 a.m. ET; for more details on the New Jersey PWC round, we’ll refer you to World-Challenge.com. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

This year’s Detroit Grand Prix gathering on Belle Isle Park really was all about sweeps.

In addition to Team Penske winning both Verizon IndyCar Series events (Will Power on Saturday, Helio Castroneves on Sunday), former IndyCar driver E.J. Viso won all three Stadium Super Truck races, while Johnny O’Connell and Dean Martin claimed both Pirelli World Challenge races in GT and GTS respectively.

On Sunday, Viso had to deal with Burt Jenner on the final lap to complete his Motor City trifecta. But the Venezuelan got past him for the lead in Turn 4 of the Belle Isle street circuit and after the two made contact, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Robby Gordon were able to overtake Jenner for second and third before the checkered flag.

“I am obviously starting to feel more comfortable with the truck,” Viso said in a release. “It was a great weekend and a great track. This new series is going to be the next thing, it’s really catching on with the fans, sponsors and drivers.

“The trucks are very fun to drive and I had a blast. This is only my second opportunity in the trucks, and I hope there are many others. Now I am looking forward to X Games next weekend in Austin, which I am sure is going to be a different animal but I am ready for that challenge.”

Meanwhile in Pirelli World Challenge action, O’Connell (No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R) and Martin (No. 50 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S) not only triumphed twice in their respective classes but did so in wire-to-wire fashion.

O’Connell, the reigning GT champion in PWC, now has three wins on the season, while Martin now has two in his pocket.

“There are certain tracks that you know that you have to do well at. When we are on the street circuits we have an opportunity,” said O’Connell. “The hardest thing for any driver is winning the first time at any track and once you win you wake up the next morning knowing that you can do it again.”

While O’Connell’s sweep no doubt pleased the General Motors crowd, Martin’s sweep was also a home win for Ford, which is situated in nearby Dearborn, Michigan.

“We are committed to doing a full season in the series with our Mustang; the Mustangs really show their strength here in Detroit, our home territory,” Martin said. “It’s really great to bring home a win for Ford here. Hats off to our crew – [this was a] brand new car that was originally built as a show car and we tore it down and took what was left from the race car from Barber.”

Martin was one of multiple Mustang drivers involved in an opening-lap pileup during the first GT/GTS race of the Barber weekend back in April.

Winning on Belle Isle in the GT-A subcategory for gentlemen drivers were Dan Knox (No. 80 ACS Manufacturing, Inc./Performance SpeedTech SRT Viper GT3-R) on Saturday and Marcelo Hahn (No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2) on Sunday. Hahn is now the first driver to pick up multiple GT-A wins this year.

As the GT classes battled on Belle Isle, the PWC’s Touring Car-based categories stayed busy with a weekend twin-bill on the road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

There were a few sweeps in Jersey as well, with Michael DiMeo winning both rounds in TC and Shea Holbrook pulling the same feat in TC-A. Brian Price (Saturday) and Tyler Palmer (Sunday) split wins in TCB.

DiMeo and his No. 71 Grand Alarms Honda Civic Si have been unstoppable in TC this season, and now have a sparkling record of six wins in six starts. Holbrook’s chalked up three TC-A wins now in 2014 with her No. 67 TRUECar/Lucas Oil/Radium Honda Civic Si, and her win on Sunday came as part of a 1-2 TC-A result for Shea Racing as teammate Jason Cherry finished P2.

Price’s TCB win on Saturday was a wire-to-wire triumph, but Palmer’s TCB win on Sunday wasn’t decided for him until late. In that race, Palmer, Price, and Paul Holton all took turns at the front, but it was Palmer (No. 37 Mini Cooper) who pulled off the winning pass on Price with two laps to go.

“We were switching positions nearly every corner,” Palmer said of his late-race battle. “I don’t know how many lead changes there were or position changes in general.

“Price got loose in Turn 1 and I took that corner great, I had speed coming out of 2, went to the inside for 3, cleared him and was hoping he wouldn’t be close enough to get around me on the front straight with the power of the Hondas. That was the best race of the year excitement wise for the fans by far.”

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”