Rolex 24 at Hour 20: Chase Elliott’s car suffers failure; Jimmie Johnson still in hunt for a win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the Rolex 24 at Daytona ticked down to winning time over the final four hours, one NASCAR Cup Series champion remained hopeful of his first overall victory Sunday while another’s debut ignominiously ended with a mechanical failure.

The Action Express Racing No. 31 Cadillac, whose Rolex 24 lineup includes defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, headed to the Daytona International Speedway garage out of contention after the car was stuck in gear while pole-sitter Felipe Nasr was leaving Turn 6 and entering the transition to the oval banking.

“I lost the drive and could hear a loud bang on the gearbox, that was the fourth gear done,” Nasr told NBC Sports pit reporter Parker Kligerman while the team fixed the car. “I don’t know what to say. I feel terrible for everybody. We put in such a good work all weekend. Last weekend starting on pole. I don’t know what to say, man. We’ve got to come back with better luck next time.

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

‘STEEP LEARNING CURVE’: Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson make sports car transition

“It’s the hardest race we go to, and that’s why it’s the biggest race of the year. … I had a great lineup of teammates. Not our turn.”

Elliott already had completed his time in the car after running a little more than two hours over five stints spread over two times behind the wheel, including an opening run that left him frustrated over what he considered his “terrible” pace. But the team elected to put him back in the car after completing repairs that left the car 22 laps down.

Running in the sister Action Express car, Johnson also was done after three times and more than three hours in the car on the 3.56-mile road course. The No. 48 Ally Cadillac remained very much in the hunt for an overall victory with two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Rockenfeller and Simon Pagenaud.

Though Johnson lost time in his final stint, he led for a while during an early morning outing after starting the race and said he improved throughout behind the wheel. After two hours of sleep, he was up by 5 a.m. and at the pit stand more than an hour ahead of getting in the car.

“I was trying to get some rest but just having so much fun, so I was curious how the car is performing and what’s taking place,” Johnson said. “And with the caution flags, it just pushed my time in the car back later and later, and I was definitely there much earlier than I needed to be. It’s been an amazing experience. Now these guys are really stepping up and showing what they have, and I really appreciate every lap I have. I’m learning so much with each lap that I make.”

This marked Johnson’s eighth Rolex 24 start but first in a decade and in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series’ DPi division. The seven-time Cup champion is using the high-downforce sports cars to help prepare for the part-time schedule he’ll run in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series.

“Last night, being able to lead and manage traffic was really a good stint for me,” he said. “I had the right flow in traffic. I seemed to just catch the right breaks. This most recent outing, Rocky and I were just talking about how those things come and go, there’s just a flow to a certain stint, and this morning’s stint did not go as I had hoped with flow and traffic.

Mike Rockenfeller was behind the wheel of the No. 48 Cadillac as the sun rose Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

“It’s really been an eye-opening experience, and I knew the competition was going to be tough, but as I started looking at the names of the drivers on each of these teams, I just realized how competitive this DPi field is going to be, even when you look through GT and LMP divisions, there’s talent everywhere. The last time I ran this race, I don’t think the talent was as deep and consistent certainly in the top category. I’ve been losing times with ins and outs on cold tires and charging to the pit box, and just some of the small details I didn’t have to worry about in previous races here, because you weren’t at 10/10ths like they are now for a variety of reasons.”

He seemed to earn the respect of the other veterans, including three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, whose path crossed with Johnson during Sunday morning Zoom news conferences.

“Big congrats, man,” Castroneves told Johnson. “For you to be doing those things, I want to be like you. Absolutely awesome.”

Alexander Rossi led in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing for a stretch Sunday morning (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

Castroneves had good reason to be in his typically chipper mood after completing his time in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which was vying for its third consecutive Rolex 24 victory.

After lacking speed over the first several hours, the Acuras of WTR and Meyer Shank Racing came to life as the sun rose over the track.

Driving the No. 10 (which made the switch to Acura in the offseason after winning two of the past three Rolex 24s with a Cadillac), Alexander Rossi held the lead for long stretches of the morning, including a spirited battle between the 2016 Indy 500 winner and Formula One veteran Kevin Magnussen.

The lead eventually was wrested away by Magnussen, but the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who was making his Rolex 24 debut, was forced to pit from first for a drive through penalty for wheel rotation while the car was jacked up during a pit stop.

Chase Elliott and Alexander Rossi, who share a primary sponsor (NAPA) in their other full-time auto racing gigs, talk in the pits before the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

Renger van der Zande, Magnussen’s Ganassi teammate, said the Acuras “found some speed overnight clearly, where yesterday I could get by them easily and drive away, that’s not there anymore.

“It’s so tight,” van der Zande said. “It’s so tight, man.

“We’re fighting for the lead in the race every time, and you make a small mistake, you lose a position. That’s how tight it is.

“There’s a lot of competitive cars who can do it at the end. We got lucky with the Bus Stop in traffic. Sometimes you’re stuck behind some GT or LMP3 car in the Bus Stop, and they just fly by you like sitting ducks. If that happens at the end of the race, man. That’s going to be the decision right there. The competition is high. Competition is big. Both, very competitive drivers, they know what to do, and I think also the teams, they run a very good program. it’s only seven cars, but all of them are doing very well.”

With four hours remaining in the season-opening sports car endurance classic, there were five DPi cars on the lead lap, led by Wayne Taylor Racing’s Filipe Albuquerque over Pagenaud in the No. 48 Cadillac.

Aside from the No. 31 being out of contention, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac also was nearly 50 laps down after the car was damaged in an incident late Saturday night.

In other classes with four hours remaining, Corvette Racing held the top two spots in GTLM, the No. 18 of Era Motorsport was tops in LMP2, Riley Motorsports’ No. 74 led in LMP3, and the Winward Racing No. 57 Mercedes was first in GTD.

2023 MotoGP schedule announced, highlighted by trips to India and Kazakhstan

2023 MotoGP schedule
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A new opening venue and the addition of two Grands Prix in India and Kazakhstan will highlight the 2023 MotoGP schedule.

The 2023 MotoGP season will kick off March 24th with the opening round in Portugal instead of the typical trip to Qatar. Work on the Losail International Circuit pushed their date back to the penultimate weekend after the series finishes a series of races around the Pacific Rim.

Following Portugal, MotoGP heads to Argentina and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for their only visit to the United States before heading back to Europe for most of the next 10 rounds.

Interrupting the long European stint will be the series’ first visit to the Sokol International Circuit in Kazakhstan on July 7, 2023. The traditional summer break will be three weeks and then MotoGP heads to England for the British GP in August.

After three more European rounds at Austria, Catalunya and San Marino, the second new date on the calendar will come on the 16-turn, Buddh International Circuit for a September 24 race date. Both the India and Kazakhstan races are subject to homologation and approval by the circuit.

The next six races will be held in Asia and Oceania before Qatar and Valencia close out the schedule.

“We’re very proud to announce that Buddh International Circuit will be on the 2023 calendar,” said Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, which manages the series. “We have a lot of fans in India and we’re excited to be able to bring the sport to them.

“India is also a key market for the motorcycle industry and therefore, by extension, for MotoGP as the pinnacle of the two-wheeled world. We very much look forward to racing at Buddh International Circuit and can’t wait to welcome the fans through the gates to see this incredible sport in person.”

One of two new races announced for 2022, in Finland, did not materialize this season and has not been added to the 2023 MotoGP schedule. In addition, the Aragon GP has been removed to keep the rounds at 21.

2023 Provisional Schedule

Portugal GP, Algarve, March 26
Argentina GP, Termas de Río Hondo, April 2
American GP, Circuit of the Americas, April 16
Spanish GP, Jerez, April 30
French GP, Le Mans, May 14
Italian GP, Mugello, June 11
German GP, Sachsenring, June 18
Dutch GP, Assen, June 25
Kazakhstan GP, Sokol, July 9 *
British GP, Silverstone, August 6
Austrian GP, Red Bull Ring, August 20
Catalan GP, Catalunya, September 3
San Marino GP, Misano, September 10
Indian GP, Buddh, September 24 *
Japanese GP, Motegi, October 1
Indonesia GP, Mandalika Street Circuit, October 15
Australian GP, Philip Island, October 22
Thailand GP, Chang International Circuit, October 29
Malaysian GP, Sepang, November 12
Qatar GP, Losail International Circuit, November 19
Valencia GP, Ricardo Tormo, November 26

* subject to approval