Action Express Cadillac of Derani, Nasr wins Motul 100 to capture Rolex 24 pole position

Rolex 24 pole

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Rebounding from an inspection failure after qualifying, the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani won the inaugural Motul 100 qualifier Sunday to capture the pole position for the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Nasr started sixth in the 100-minute race after the car was found to be underweight after turning the fastest lap in a Saturday afternoon qualifying session. He took the lead from Tristan Vautier on Lap 20, and the No. 31 led 40 of the final 42 laps as Derani drove the final 33 minutes.

It marked the first time the starting grid of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener had been set by a qualifying race.

STATS PACKAGE: Motul 100 results l Results by class l Fastest lap by driver l Lap chart Leader sequence l Fastest lap sequence

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HOW TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24Full broadcast schedule on NBC Sports

Brazilians Derani and Nasr were joined in victory lane by teammates Mike Conway and Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who will be sharing the car in the Rolex 24 (the qualifying race was limited to two drivers).

“It’s fantastic to be back; it was a hard end of season for us last year, just so privileged to be working with this team, Whelen Engineering, Cadillac and everyone involved in this program,” Pipo Derani told NBCSN pit reporter Kevin Lee in victory lane. “Felipe, our partnership has been fantastic since Day 1, and now it’s just getting better.

“We’re just a little upset that we know some other guys are not showing everything they have, but a race win is a race win, and we’ll take it anytime we can and a perfect place to start the 24 Hours of Daytona next week.”

Nasr said there was vindication after incurring the penalty, particularly because the team gained 35 points for winning the pole under a new IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship points structure that increases the points scale by a factor of 10 and awards points for qualifying.

“I love this new format; I think that race just bring a little more excitement,” he told Lee. “There’s points already added to the championship, so great to be back. We’ve shown the speed yesterday and confirming it today. I’m looking forward to next week. There’s a lot to happen. This is just the first step of long week ahead of us.

“Like Pipo said, it’s great that we’ve worked this offseason. We showed what we brought. We’ve been driving all week flat out. It just annoys me the fact that some other manufacturers aren’t showing their hands yet. I hope they see that because we are doing our thing. And I hope the series understands that.”

Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson said “a 2.2-pound mistake” was made in setting the weight on the No. 31 for qualifying.

The No. 31 Cadillac pits during the Motul 100 (IMSA).

“It was a little bit disappointing,” Nasr said. “But rules are the rules. We just didn’t let the frustration get to us. It was all about getting our head down when we saw the weather was changing (by raining before the race), and the new opportunity was coming. That’s racing.

“As Pipo said, we take whatever comes and work ourselves up through the field. I like those conditions when the driver has to give feedback on what does he need in the car, when is the time to put on slick tires. It was great. I can only say I had a lot of fun pushing our car to the maximum. Very satisfied to put the 31 Whelen Engineering in the front row for next weekend.”

Action Express’ other Cadillac, the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, MIke Rockenfeller and Simon Pagenaud, finished sixth. Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion racing his first Rolex 24 in a decade, put in an hour and 7 minutes, turning a fast lap of 1:38.103 that was just under 2 seconds off the race’s fastest lap set by Kobayashi, who drove the last 31 minutes.

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“I’m very thankful that the team put me in this position to start the race and qualify the Ally Cadillac,” Johnson said. “It put me in some positions I hadn’t been in before. It allowed me to understand the prerace procedures like fuel mapping pages, warming the tires up under caution, keep the carbon brakes hot, and things you mess with in the car.

“All of that while it is raining. To be running in the rain and to understand the tires, the spray from the other cars and then transition to dry with slicks and getting them up to temperature. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but I stayed on the road and had a lot of valuable first-time experiences, which was really helpful.”

Said Kobayashi: “Jimmie is working very hard. He’s made a big step this week. I think next week he will be even faster.”

Other class winners who will start on pole for each of their divisions:

GTLM: Nick Tandy (in his Corvette Racing debut) and Alexander Sims in the No. 4 C8.R

LMP2: Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen in the No. 52 ORECA of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports

GTD: Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 of Turner Motorsport

LMP3: Laurents Hoerr and Moritz Kranz in the No. 6 Duqueine D08 of Muehlner Motorsports America

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”