Ganassi’s young guns shined at 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona

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One of the question marks in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was how Chip Ganassi’s three lesser-experienced drivers in the endurance race would handle having a greater responsibility.

But it’s fair to say that each of Kyle Larson, Sage Karam and Charlie Kimball passed that test with flying colors, all of whom were making their second Rolex 24 starts.

Karam and Larson in particular stood out in the pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Fords, with Karam in the full-season No. 01 and Larson part of the eventual race-winning No. 02 car. Each drove about seven to eight hours, far more than in their debut year a year ago.

Karam, the 19-year-old IndyCar full-season hopeful for CGR, felt this was a great audition to build on what he showed last year – particularly at Sebring.

“Each time I’ve been in the car has been good for improvements in my career,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk. “I think the first stint was huge with that restart, going for the lead and then pulling a pretty big margin… good thing was it was on TV, so that helps out.

“When you’re in the middle of the night, you just bring it home in one piece. This time, we took it to the champions of this race last year in Action Express. We had a great battle with the Wayne Taylor car. But it’s a shame how it ended for us with the slipping clutch.”

Meanwhile Larson, the 22-year-old wheelman who’s seemingly won in everything he’s touched, was skeptical of returning for a second year at the Rolex 24 and thought of making excuses to get out of it.

“I felt and knew I did a really bad job last year… well, I thought I did a really bad job,” Larson said. “All year I was trying to figure out an excuse to not run this race. It’s pretty amazing that I felt pressured into running this race and now I’m a winner of this event.”

CGR managing director Mike Hull spoke highly of both drivers in the post-race press conference, particularly Larson given his pre-race trepidation.

“After he raced last year, he was actually very intimidated by the process of driving road racing in a big hybrid sports car, and I had heard that he didn’t want to do the race this year,” Hull said. “I thought, well, that was odd. He’s a racing guy.

“So I called him on the phone, and I said, you’re going to drive with us. He said, well, I don’t know if I want to. Those other guys are so good.

“The time investment that we made together last year at the Daytona 24-hour race is going to pay big dividends for all of us, including you, this year, and I’m glad it did for him because he represents all of us.”

Karam and Ganassi have a natural tie-in – both are Pennsylvania natives – while Larson speaks to the North Carolina front of the CGR organization beyond its Pennsylvania roots and also its Indianapolis base.

And both are also a major part of CGR’s future, beyond team veterans Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray on the IndyCar/NASCAR sides and Scott Pruett and Joey Hand on the sports car side.

“We had eight drivers drive for us today, not four… if anybody digs into our culture at all they’ll find out that’s who we are. We’re all about the people that work for us.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III