IMSA: Felipe Nasr takes No. 31 Cadillac to Sebring victory in return


After missing the IMSA return to action two weeks earlier, Felipe Nasr drove to an overall victory Saturday in the Grand Prix of Sebring as Cadillacs swept the top three at Sebring International Raceway.

After Pipo Derani started behind the wheel of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Cadillac from the pole position of the DPi class, Nasr took over midway through the 2 hour, 40-minute race and won by nearly 30 seconds over the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Ryan Briscoe and Renger Van der Zande.

The No. 5 Cadillac of Sebastien Bourdais and Jaoa Barbosa finished third after a last-lap pass of the No. 77 Mazda  of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, who ran out of fuel.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
Pipo Derani celebrates after taking the Sebring pole in the DPi division (IMSA).

Fifth went to the No. 55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito, who had won July 4 at Daytona International Raceway in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series’ first race since the Rolex 24 after a layoff for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Nasr missed Daytona after a positive test for COVID-19 that he got after falling ill on his drive to Daytona from Miami.

The Brazilian underwent a two-week quarantine, and his Action Express team announced Friday that Nasr had been cleared to return (having tested negative twice in 24 hours this week under IMSA protocols).

Felipe Nasr

“I have no words, really,” Nasr said on NBCSN in victory lane. “I think God is great, first of all. To be here today was the only thing I could ask for … and I couldn’t think of a better gift.

“I’m out of words right now. We had a mega car from the first time I hit the track. I’m super pleased

Derani qualified the No. 31 on pole and now has four wins in his past five races at Sebring.

“I had to take care of the tires and save fuel,” Derani said in a team release about his stint. “The guys did a fantastic job. The Whelen Engineering/Action Express Cadillac was out in front, where it should be. A big thanks to my sponsor OYO Fitness for keeping me fit. Man, it was hot out there. It’s great to have Felipe with us again.”

This was the Action Express team’s second consecutive victory at Sebring after winning last year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring race.

Other classes in the IMSA Sebring Grand Prix:

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — GTLM

Corvette Racing captured the top two spots in GTLM for the second consecutive race, but it was the No. 4 Corvette C8.R of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in victory lane this time.

Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor (who started on pole) finished second after being leap-frogged by their teammates during the final pit stop sequence.

“The Corvette Racing team did an amazing job in the pit lane,” Gavin told NBCSN. “Got us out in front of the Porsches; I don’t know what they were doing, running their own deal. But it was a good race between Jordan and I.

“It was close, nip and tuck and trying to save as much fuel as possible to hand the car off to Tommy of finishing off and leapfrogging those in pit lane. Great 1-2 for Corvette racing. Really great to follow up the win at Daytona.”

Said Milner: “Great strategy, great pit stops, just awesome job. To have this long break and have these cars as good as shape as they are is a testament to that team.”

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
The No. 4 Corvette C8.R of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won the GTLM class at Sebring (IMSA).

Earl Bamber took third place in the No. 912 Porsches 911 RSR-19, which rebounded from with a teammate. After trying to squeeze in beside the No. 4 Corvette in the narrow pit lane, the No. 911 of Nick Tandy made contact with the No. 912 then being driven by Laurens Vanthoor, ripping off the left front bumper cover of the latter car.

Vanthoor lost a lap to repair the damage. A few laps later, Tandy nearly lost control because of a cut rear tire apparently from the collision. He was able to limp the car back to the pits but also lost a lap.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — GTD

Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz took AIM Vasser Sullivan to its second consecutive GTD victory with the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Telitz, who joined the team only three weeks ago as a full-time, qualified on pole before handing off to Hawksworth.

“I mean, honestly, could it get any better than this,” Telitz said on NBCSN. “Two race wins, first two races full time. Our car was incredible today, and I just handed off to Jack, and he did an awesome job bringing it home.”

Said Hawksworth: “It feels pretty good. The Lexus RC F GT3 was brilliant today, the strategy was perfect, the decisions on pit lane made a massive difference. Yeah, the championship is on the mind for sure.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
The No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC-F GT3 of Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth won in GTD (IMSA).

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — LMP2

The PR1 Motorsporsts entry of Paul Kelly and Spencer Pigot were declared the victors after IMSA penalized the No. 81 DragonSpeed entry, according to the NBCSN broadcast.

The No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 of Patrick Kelly and Spencer Pigot (IMSA).

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

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.”