IndyCar unlikely for Kamui Kobayashi, but an IMSA victory is possible with better pit stops

Kamui Kobayashi IndyCar

Kamui Kobayashi believes victory lane with Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud is possible – but don’t expect the Japanese sports car prodigy to race his teammates in IndyCar this year.

After finishing second with Johnson, Kobayashi, Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Action Express Racing announced last week the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi will return for the next three Michelin Endurance Cup races this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Johnson, Pagenaud and Kobayashi will race next week in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and also will be teamed for the six-hour race at Watkins Glen International and the Motul Petit Le Mans season finale.

Though Kobayashi missed a Sebring test March 2-3 with the team, he got good feedback from Johnson and Pagenaud and also has a second-place finish in a Toyota at the iconic road course in the 2019 World Endurance Championship race.

Kamui Kobayashi helped the No. 48 Cadillac finish second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

“I knew the circuit from WEC just once,” Kobayashi said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “For sure, the track will still be bumpy, but it sounds like with my teammates, the car is quite good on the bumps. So I’m quite looking forward to being back in Sebring with the Cadillac DPi.

“We were working well together, Jimmie and Simon and Rocky as well. In the beginning, we tried to understand how we communicated, but I think at the end of the week, after Daytona, we had really pretty good fun through all the week. Obviously, I think Jimmie is coming from a completely different car, which is NASCAR. I think he’d try to learn the car as much as he can, and I think the end of the race, he managed to get pretty good speed. Definitely I think we will have more opportunity to maybe win the race.”

Though lack of familiarity between drivers was overcome at Daytona, Kobayashi said the lack of experience on pit stops hurt the team. Using a mostly Hendrick Motorsports-supplied pit crew, Kobayashi said the team lost about 5 seconds in the pits each stop.

A contingent of Hendrick employees, including vice president of competition Chad Knaus and other pit crew members, will return with the No. 48 for the next three IMSA races.

“Our team is kind of new,” Kobayashi said. “Action Express is running the team with Hendrick, but obviously many guys are coming from Hendrick, which has never been in the sports cars. When you look at every pit stop, we lost quite a bit of lap time.

“So I think there are many things that we can improve, so (the team) is 100 percent sure we’ll be OK in the next Sebring. I think the general feeling is we will have more opportunity in the next three rounds.”

It appears his U.S. opportunities will be limited to IMSA despite a recent story about his interest in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Kobayashi said there have been no discussions with any IndyCar teams, and his schedule of the World Endurance Championship, IMSA and also Super Formula in Japan will make it tricky to squeeze in further races (particularly with the WEC and IMSA adjusting calendars for the recent postponement of the 24 Hours of Le Mans).

“I just had a question if I had interest in IndyCar, and that’s why I said, ‘Yeah, it’d be interesting,’ ” Kobayashi said. “But for the moment, there is nothing along. So I will be focused on the WEC and the Endurance Cup in IMSA. I will have quite the busy schedule.

Rolex 24 at Daytona
Kamui Kobayashi, Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after finishing second in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

“We’ll see. If the schedule is all right, if I had an offer, maybe I would be there, but for the moment, it’s quite a busy schedule. With the WEC moving the original Le Mans dates, I think we’ll be a little more packed the middle of the season. So it’ll be difficult to find time.”

His presence likely will be welcomed, as Kobayashi has established quite a reputation with his aggressive and sublime driving during two victories and a runner-up in hi only three Rolex 24 starts

“Kamui around is always good for some fireworks on track,” Chip Ganassi Racing driver Renger van der Zande said with a chuckle Tuesday. “I had some good battles, and Scott (Dixon) told me had had good battles with Kamui as well. Having a big name, Jimmie Johnson, to have in the field is always good, too.”

In one memorable moment at the Rolex 24, Johnson received some demonstrative coaching from Kobayashi, whom the seven-time Cup Series champion says is “just insane as a driver,” particularly in Daytona’s Bus Stop chicane.

“His experience in high downforce cars and the bravery and talent that he has. He’s just a monster through there,” Johnson said of Kobayashi. “Simon and I and Rocky have all looked at the data and just can’t believe how fast he gets through there and how committed he is.”

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)