IMSA: Historic 50th season kicks off this weekend with Roar Before the Rolex 24

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA’s 50th Anniversary begins Friday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona which features three days of action.

The unofficial start to what promises to be an unforgettable season of full fields and unprecedented manufacturer involvement got going with the annual IMSA Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

Series regulars and special guest stars for the Rolex 24 turned out in force to participate in photo shoots and interview sessions throughout the day with media from the United States and around the world, including IMSA’s new broadcast partner – NBC.

The feeling of anticipation was palpable among the many IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi), LMP2, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) making the media rounds.

“You see great names coming already for this race,” said Helio Castroneves, who is returning for his second full season of WeatherTech Championship competition as co-driver of the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi with 2017 Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor. “It sounds like we’re going to have a lot of cars with DPi, but also in GTD and GTLM. You have factories, there are so many in the series. When you have that kind of scenario, it shows that everybody is interested. I see no reason for it going down. It’s actually just going to continue going up.”

“It’s just amazing,” said Dirk Mueller, 2017 Rolex 24 GTLM winner and co-driver of the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais. “I don’t know how long we’ve been saying, ‘It’s the best championship, it’s the best championship, it’s the best championship.’ It is the best championship, that’s for sure. It keeps on getting better and better.

“All the ingredients are in here: fantastic cars, really, really good teams, good manufacturers, good drivers and it keeps getting better. It makes me somewhat proud to be part of it. It’s like a huge community and people outside it, they’re getting jealous.”

The green flag falls on the first WeatherTech Championship practice session of the season Friday at 11 a.m. ET. The weekend also features an IMSA Prototype Challenge race Saturday beginning at 12:15 p.m. The three-hour race can be seen on IMSA.TV and heard on IMSARadio.com. Ticket holders for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are admitted free while tickets are available for the event at daytonainternatonalspeedway.com.

50th Anniversary Celebration Begins:
While there have been plenty of glimpses of what is in store for IMSA’s 50th Anniversary in 2019, the official start to the celebration begins this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24.

The celebration will last throughout the season in each championship. The four cornerstones of the golden anniversary include Drivers & Teams, Tracks, Manufacturers and Fans. During the year there will be many opportunities for fans to reive their IMSA memories to see historical cars and meet drivers from the past. Many teams and manufacturers have already announced plans to run historical liveries during the year.

IMSA released a commemorative book in August entitled “IMSA: Celebrating 50 Years.” The 216-page book is available for purchase and contains the stories of the drivers, cars, teams, manufacturers, events and executives that make up the storied history of IMSA.

The book tells the story of its formation between John and Peggy Bishop and Bill France, Sr., to the first race at Pocono in 1969, to its current standing as a highly regarded sanctioning body that will lead seven motorsport platforms in 2019, including its flagship – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

IMSA also will be the featured marque at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in August.

New for 2019:

Michelin begins its status as the “Official Tire Supplier” of IMSA this weekend as well as officially beginning its entitlement of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup which begins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

IMSA also starts its six-year partnership with the NBC Sports Group in January to televise the WeatherTech Championship, which will feature an 80 percent increase of network coverage in 2019. A majority of programming (45 hours) will be broadcast on NBCSN and all races will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.

Defending Champions Have New Looks:
Two of the three championship teams from the WeatherTech Championship will have new looks in 2019.

The Prototype class champion from 2018 – the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R., driven by Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran will have a new addition as Pipo Derani joins the team as a full-time driver in the team’s now Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, with Curran joining the team for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class champion of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini will have Ryan Hardwick joining champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick enters the car as the World Final Champion in the AM class in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America in 2018.

The only champions without a change are the pair of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing machine. The duo won the title without winning a race in 2018.

Stars In Cars:
Once again, the Rolex 24 At Daytona will feature some of the biggest names in motorsports.

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso made his Rolex 24 debut last year and is back in 2019 as part of the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside regulars Jordan Taylor and Renger van de Zande. They will also be joined by Kamui Kobayashi, Alonso’s teammate in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Alex Zanardi, the two-timeCART champion and former Formula 1 driver, makes his debut at Daytona in the Roar and the Rolex. Zanardi, driving for BMW, uses a specially-modified steering wheel and hand controls to drive after losing his legs in a Champ Car crash back in 2001. Since then, he has also become a multi-gold medalist in the Paralympics.

Racing at The Roar:
After its successful debut with a race at the 2018 Roar, there once again will be an IMSA Prototype Challenge race over the weekend.

The season-opener on Saturday, Jan. 5 will be the first three-hour race for the series, which shifts to a single-class LMP3 format in 2019 as well. It will start at 12:15 p.m. EST. The race can be seen on IMSA.tv and can be heard on IMSARadio.com and RadioLeMans.com.

Roman De Angelis won the race in 2018 driving for ANSA Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”