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.
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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.”
— Felipe Nasr (@FelipeNasr) January 24, 2021
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.
“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.”
— #IMSA / #MotulPole (@IMSA) January 24, 2021
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