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.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”