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

Kamui Kobayashi IndyCar
IMSA
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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 RACER.com 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.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
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Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2