Jim Pace, 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall winner, dies after contracting COVID-19

Jim Pace dies COVID-19
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Jim Pace, an 18-time starter in the Rolex 24 and an overall winner in 1996, is dead after contracting COVID-19, according to his family. Pace died Nov. 13 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Pace, 59, won the 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in an Oldsmobile with Scott Sharp and Wayne Taylor (whose No. 10 Cadillac has won the past two Rolex 24s and was vying Saturday for the DPi title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Sebring International Raceway).

It’s very, very sad news,” Taylor said in a tweet from Wayne Taylor Racing. “Hard to believe. Jim and I drove together and won at Daytona and Sebring in 1996. My condolences to his family. I always said he was one of the nicest people and one of the best teammates I ever had.”

A member of the Wayne Taylor Racing crew wore a helmet carrying a tribute to Jim Pace at the Twelve Hours of Sebring (IMSA).

Pace also won the Twelve Hours of Sebring in 1996. He was a GTU class winner in his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut in 1990.

(Getty Images)

After Saturday’s Twelve Hours of Sebring, Corvette Racing champion Jordan Taylor offered a tearful tribute to Pace in a postrace interview with NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch.

“What a sad start hearing the news this morning about Jim Pace,” Taylor said. “He meant a ton to my dad. He won this race with my dad back in ’96, and we’re just going to miss him.”

“Racer, teacher and loyal friend: These are three simple words to describe Jim Pace and the loss our sport feels today due to his passing,” IMSA president John Doonan said in a release. “When it comes to racing and driving, Jim did it all and saw it all.

“From a beginner to a champion, Jim counseled drivers on the path to the top after he himself rode that same journey. of us at IMSA are devastated by losing such a great champion and friend.”

Here’s the release from Sunday Group Management sent on behalf of the Pace family:

Jim Pace passed away on Nov. 13 in Memphis, Tennessee, after contracting COVID-19.

Pace was an 18-time participant in the Rolex 24 At Daytona from 1990-2016. He won in his first start, taking GTU honors in a Team Highball Mazda RX-7.

He began his racing career in Barber Saab in 1988, and quickly moved up to sports cars. He finished third in IMSA Camel Lights in 1991, winning at Road America in an Essex Racing Kudzu-Buick.  He won the 1994 IMSA Camel GTU championship, winning three races for Leitzinger Racing at Road Atlanta, Indianapolis Raceway Park and Laguna Seca.

Pace took overall honors in 1996, driving with Wayne Taylor and Scott Sharp in a Doyle Racing Olds-Riley & Scott Mk III.

He followed up his 1996 Rolex 24 victory by winning the 12 Hours of Sebring in the same car with Taylor and Eric Van de Poele. The feat was nearly unprecedented.

Pace took his third victory of the season at Texas World Speedway, co-driving with Taylor. He finished ninth in the championship, scoring five podium finishes. Pace also participated with the team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, co-driving with Taylor and Sharp.

Pace helped to sow the seeds of motorsport through his decades-long contributions at the Skip Barber Racing School, including providing coaching and advice to top talents on their way to IndyCar and sports car careers.

Racing through the decades, Pace never lost his touch for competition or feel for a car.

In recent years, he was part of 50-Plus Racing/Highway to Help, competing to raise funds for Alzheimer’s awareness. In the 50th anniversary of the event in 2012, he co-drove with AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson to a 12th-place finish. He finished eighth in the Prototype class in 2015 and 2016.

Pace had grown his role with Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) in recent years, acquiring an ownership stake in 2015 as well as continuing to foster the paddock experience as a coach and mentor.

In lieu of flowers, the Pace family has asked that donations be made to Wounded Warriors or Alzheimer’s Research in his name.

Arrangements for a service have not been made yet but a celebration of life service will be announced at a later date.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”