DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Having missed the debut of Chip Ganassi Racing’s new Cadillac DPi team because of an exposure to COVID-19, Renger van der Zande was cleared to race last week and is confident of getting a third consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona victory.
Van der Zande, who arrived in the United States about three weeks ago from the Netherlands, said he came in close contact in Indianapolis with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and his ensuing quarantine forced him to sit out Ganassi’s Jan. 20 test at Sebring International Raceway and last Friday’s opening practice of Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session.
Marcus Ericsson, one of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, had been filling in for van der Zande with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teammates Scott Dixon and Kevin Magnussen, but the team will rely on the trio of van der Zande, Magnussen and Dixon for the Rolex 24.
“We took it safe,” van der Zande told NBC Sports. “They wanted to sit me out for five days to make sure I didn’t get any symptoms, which I didn’t.
“I used my time to go training and all that, and I sat in the hotel room for two days of testing at Sebring and listened to the radio to what the guys were doing and tried to give my advice about the car, because I have three years of experience in the car. The five days ended on the Friday of the Roar, so I did a COVID test Friday morning and went straight to the track. So it was kind of bad to not be there at the first shakedown.
“I’d have loved to be there and start working on it from the beginning. On the other hand, I know these cars so well and this track so well, so getting up to speed was not an issue as well, and when I jumped in the car, the car was in very good shape already setup-wise. So straightaway, the first outing was already a good lap time.
“It was a bit of a weird situation of spending some time in Indianapolis, spending a lot of time in the area of Orlando on my race bike and then finally getting in the car for three days of Roar testing. Happy everything went well. I didn’t have any COVID, and here we got for a race that I’m trying to win again.”
After winning the IMSA season opener the past two seasons with Wayne Taylor Racing, van der Zande has remained in a Cadillac in making the transition to Ganassi’s No. 01.
“I’m kind of lucky how things came together,” van der Zande, 34, said. “I think I’m in a great position now. I had the job for a long time last year. And then suddenly I got sacked anyway. That time from being sacked after working already toward this season with that team, the moment I got sacked, and two and a half weeks later, being signed up with Chip Ganassi Racing it was just like a dream come true.
“When I heard about there could be rumors about Chip Ganassi going to IMSA, I think that was the right spot to be at. And if I was signed up with Wayne Taylor Racing, there was never going to be an opportunity. So things work out the way they do, and super proud to be here and also looking to the future.”
Magnussen and van der Zande finished seventh in Sunday’s Motul 100 qualifying race after getting caught out on strategy, which the Dutchman said “was a good thing that happened because we can make sure that never happens when it really counts.”
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) January 22, 2021
Magnussen, his full-time “rookie” teammate in sports cars after several seasons in Formula One, led the first 15 laps after passing pole-sitter Oliver Jarvis after the green flag.
Ganassi is the only team owner with three consecutive victories in the Rolex 24 (2006-08), and the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona will mark his first attempt at the overall title since winning in 2015.
“I’m very happy to join this team,” said van der Zande, a 14-time winner in IMSA. “How they deal with trouble, the problems, they just solve them. There is no, ‘No.’ Everything you ask for, seating positions or whatever, they get it done. The car build is impressive within Ganassi. They know how to put a car together but also what sort of philosophy in terms of setup.
“At Ganassi, they only are working on how to win races. That’s the only topic. We had a nice dinner with Chip, and that’s what he said. We’re here to win races. Off we go. It’s not about bullshit. It’s go race and win.”