Rolex 24: Acura Team Penske debut falls short, but shows great promise going forward

Photos courtesy IMSA
1 Comment

You could consider Acura Team Penske’s debut in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona like a Silicon Valley startup.

Lots of promise, great talent, strong corporate leadership and plenty of financing – but admittedly a few bugs in its first full test.

Both teams were at or near the front of the pack at the halfway point of the 24-hour endurance race that kicked off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

But issues in the second half of the race knocked both the No. 6 and No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi’s, the latter finishing ninth out of a 20-car field and the No. 6 right behind in 10th.

The No. 6 had an alternator problem that required an extended period of time in the garage, while the No. 7 endured a crash with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel.

Damage was minimal, but the car spun and lost valuable time both on-track and also in the garage.

All-in-all, for a first time effort – both teams finished 15 laps down to the winning entry of the Action Express No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi – was not potentially lower than what both teams hoped for, but they certainly could have finished much worse, as well.

The No. 7 team was comprised of Ricky Taylor, Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves, while the No. 6 roster was Simon Pagenaud, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Assessing how his teams ran with about an hour left in the race,, team owner Roger Penske told FS1, “I think the race has been amazing, fast cars, everybody’s been racing hard the whole day and night. We had an alternator go out on one of the cars and Helio got hit, but for us, if we can finish the 24 Hours and we know we have some speed in our cars, we’re looking forward to get to Sebring (next race on the IMSA schedule).

“But this is a great test for us, endurance, our pit crews and for Acura to have something as good as they’ve given us is terrific.”

As for the 42-year-old Castroneves, who was making his first start since shifting from a long career in IndyCar to IMSA – he qualified No. 2 on Friday – former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy said he believes his former teammate still has a lot of fuel left in his performance tank as a race car driver, even if it is in a new series.

“Obviously, those guys are in their 40s now, so it’s not going to go on forever in IndyCar,” Tracy told FS1. “The talent level now in the younger guys that are coming up like (Josef) Newgarden, those guys are the best of the best.

“No doubt that Castroneves still has as much speed as anyone out there, he was almost on the pole for this race.

“So, changing from one type of car to another and then immediately almost being on the pole the first race, he’ll continue to run in this until whenever he wants to stop driving. Until he tells Roger (Penske) one day, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang up my helmet,’ he’s got a ride.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
0 Comments

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)