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.”