Jarett Andretti, Robin Pemberton find triumph amidst tragedy in taking LMP3 pole at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – When Andretti Autosport’s LMP3 team took Robin Pemberton back to Daytona International Speedway victory lane Sunday in the Roar before the Rolex, it was emotionally meaningful in many ways.

With a dominant win (lapping the category’s other seven cars) in the 100-minute qualifying race, the No. 36 Ligier JS P320 earned the top starting spot in the LMP3 class for the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Pemberton last celebrated a pole position at the World Center of Racing nearly 30 years ago as the crew chief for Kyle Petty’s Pontiac in the 1993 Daytona 500.

INFORMATION FOR THE 60TH ROLEX 24Schedules, start times, entry lists

ON THE POLE POSITIONWayne Taylor Racing wins qualifying race

“I never thought I’d get back,” Pemberton told NBC Sports with a chuckle. “I wasn’t even looking for it.”

Certainly not with a prototype car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series.

Pemberton made his fame and living in NASCAR for nearly four decades, notching 26 victories as a crew chief with Richard Petty, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty and Rusty Wallace before a decade-plus run as the executive vice president of competition in the Cup Series (where he famously coined the “Boys, Have at It” phrase while overseeing many critical decisions and projects in the garage).

Jarett Andretti, who started the qualifier before handing off to co-driver Josh Burdon, playfully gave Pemberton some grief. “I said, ‘Not only did you not know if you’d be back here, but you also didn’t know you would in a P3 car, because it didn’t even exist at that time,” Andretti told NBC Sports.

It was a perfect kickoff to Andretti Autosport’s Rolex 24 debut as the team begins its first full season in the LMP3 category, continuing a journey that began three years ago. Pemberton was announced as the first hire in January 2019 by Jarett and John Andretti for their new sports car program (team owner Michael Andretti had promised his first cousin John, who left a legacy at Andretti Autosport, that the team eventually would reach the national level).

The Andretti Autosport crew works on the No. 36 in the pits at Daytona during the Roar before the 60th Rolex 24 (Ignite Media).

It’s been a steady climb over four seasons as Jarett Andretti has made the transition from dirt racing to sports cars. The team started in GT4, moved into Prototype Challenge and joined the big-league WeatherTech Series midway through the 2021 season (entering sprint races and a six-hour event at Watkins Glen to prepare for a 2022 endurance schedule that will include Daytona and Sebring).

“We’re just finding our way,” Pemberton said. “We keep building the team and getting good people to work together.”

And it’s managed the growth amidst tragedy. John Andretti died two years ago following a long bout with colon cancer. Last September, Pemberton’s son Bray died at 35, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Robin Pemberton (far left) celebrates in Daytona victory lane with the Andretti Autosport team after winning the LMP3 pole for the Rolex 24 (Ignite Media).
Robin Pemberton Andretti Rolex
Robin Pemberton (David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jarett Andretti said the “family atmosphere” of Andretti Autosport has provided a support system for Robin Pemberton, whose personal loss also has become a motivator for the team.

“He’s been through a lot, and he still comes to the shop quite a bit,” Andretti said. “His deal is really tough. I think any time you lose a kid, that’s an insurmountable pain that him and (wife) Lisa had to go through, and that’s extremely unfair.”

Despite his son’s death, Pemberton has remained a fixture as the team ramped up for the LMP3 season. Splitting time between his North Carolina family in Greensboro and Charlotte, Andretti’s shop in Indianapolis and preseason testing at Daytona, he had been on the road for five of the past seven weeks between a brief holiday break.

“(The victory) doesn’t offset anything that we’ve all been through, but it’s nice at least that some work has paid off,” Pemberton said. “You’ll never get though some of these other things that you go through in life, but the last couple of months of working hard and getting to the 24 Hours, so far it’s paid off.”

If the success continues, the stakes might increase. Michael Andretti has designs on landing a manufacturer deal to join IMSA’s new top-tier LMDh category, perhaps as early as 2024, which would put the team on a path to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

With entries in multiple series from IndyCar to IMSA to Formula E and Extreme E, Andretti is driven on being a major player in global motorsports. During a recent preseason gathering at the team’s shop, Jarett Andretti was in awe of being among drivers from more than a dozen series.

“It’s crazy this is Andretti Autosport’s first entry into the Daytona 24 Hours, because Michael has so many forays into so many different things,” he said. “So we’re really excited to be part of that first entry, and hopefully we can have a good 1 for 1 batting average when we leave (Daytona).

The Andretti Autosport crew works on the No. 36 Ligier JS P320 last year at Petit Le Mans. The team will make its Rolex 24 debut on the LMP3 pole (IMSA).

“I got to meet all the (Andretti) drivers, and it was quite cool to see all these people from different areas. So anyway, if I can be a small cog in the wheel of his, as you call it, world domination of motorsports, then I’m happy to be a part of it and try to help as much as I can.”

Pemberton, who jokes he’d be ready to go for Le Mans “as long as you can get me a good translator,” said the timing has been right.

“All around the world and the United States, road racing has taken off, and you’ve got clubs and all this other interest in it, and Michael works real hard,” Pemberton said. “With his visions, he makes stuff happen. So not knowing exactly what he wants to do, but knowing Michael like we all know him, there’s something big that he wants to do. He’s after anything he can do in the motorsports world. It’s really been a pleasure to be around him.”

Pemberton and Jarett Andretti believe they slowly have positioned the LMP3 team well for the future. Pemberton spent the first 18 months living and working full time in Indianapolis assembling a foundation “that runs a little bit different than stock cars. It was just getting people in the right spots.

“Right now it’s the best group we’ve had in four years as far as guys working together,” he said. “But this is a bigger project than we’ve done so far. Trying to run the 24 Hours is a whole season in itself. Right now it’s been pretty rewarding.

Robin Pemberton Andretti Rolex

Robin Pemberton worked as NASCAR’s executive vice president of competition for more than a decade (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports).

“Sports cars is quite different on its own. It’s a different discipline to learn. It’s hard to go back to school after you’ve gone four decades doing something completely different. But it’s still been fun.”

As always, the cars are the appeal for Pemberton (who also enjoyed working on McLarens at the outset in IMSA), though the vehicles present a much different challenge. He was personally involved with the design and development of two generations of stock cars as well as countless hours building cars with teams.

With strict homologation rules, IMSA allows less autonomy in car construction.

“You can’t work on certain things, and it’s tough,” Pemberton said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow, when you see something, and the first thing you want to do is remodel it, and you can’t. So it has its degree of difficulty, but that makes it rewarding also.”

Sports cars also have been a major adjustment for Andretti, who actually made his Rolex 24 debut 10 years ago in a Mazda RX-8 with his late father. While celebrating in Daytona victory lane Sunday, Jarett Andretti had a flashback to sitting in the 2012 prerace drivers meeting with John.

“It’s really cool because that was my dad’s last race, and he did it with me, and obviously he’s a big part of this program,” Jarett said. “So there’s a lot of good feelings when you come back to Daytona.”

Jarett Andretti and Josh Burdon celebrate their LMP3 victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona qualifying race (Ignite Media).

Though he made a detour “into left field” with USAC sprint cars and midgets from 2013-17, he always kept his eye on a return to the Rolex 24 and road racing.

“I always liked it, and that’s where I grew up,” said Andretti, who also made a 2019 start in Indy Lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Even though this is way different than running Kokomo on a Sunday night, I always wanted to get back here, and I just didn’t have the opportunity, and then we were kind of able to cultivate that.

“The sprint car racing was great, though. It teaches you so much racecraft. It helps you a ton in traffic, and I really enjoy it. So I lean on that quite a bit. People don’t think it translates, but the racing there is so hard, it’s just like racing here in the multiple classes.”

He and the team also rely heavily on Pemberton, whose job has evolved into a jack-of-all trades executive.

The first year or two, it was team manager, and it really doesn’t matter what it is, but I’m not that now,” he said. “I know my role, and it’s not that top guy. I work with the tire guys and the engineers just trying to be the guy that fills the little voids and gets people to work together. Mainly consulting, but it’s more than just a consulting job.

“During race, you just talk about stuff and have the time to make decisions and bring up ideas, but the more you’re together, the people learn their roles and get more experience actually running races and getting the strategy down. They get better as time goes on.”

Robin Pemberton Andretti Rolex
Robin Pemberton keeps a watchful eye on the No. 36 from the pit wall during the 2021 Petit Le Mans season finale (IMSA).

Pemberton might not have an official title, but Andretti has a label for his position.

“I always call him our rudder,” Andretti said. “Like on the boat, he keeps everything steady and moving forward, and he’s got so much experience, we lean on him quite a bit. He was basically the person No. 1 that Dad and I hired to run the program when we started in ’19, and he’s been there ever since.”

The constant presence of Robin Pemberton helping to prepare for the Rolex 24 during a turbulent four months after Bray’s death both impressed and touched the team, Andretti said.

“Robin hasn’t missed a beat on our program, and part of the reason is that we’re very familiar and have a family atmosphere,” he said. “We just we want to run good for Robin, too, and help ease his pain and suffering that he’s had this year.

“So I feel like there’s a lot riding on this, and we’re excited about it.”

The No. 36 Andretti Autosport Ligier JS P320 is being shared by drivers Rasmus Lindh, Josh Burdon, Jarett Andretti and Gabby Chaves (Ignite Media).


Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC Sports.com. “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)