Jimmie Johnson’s bid to win first Rolex 24 at Daytona over after incident

Rolex 24 Jimmie Johnson
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Jimmie Johnson will have to wait at least another year to win his first Rolex 24 at Daytona after falling out of contention early Sunday morning.

The No. 48 Ally Cadillac needed lengthy repairs during the event’s 60th running after an incident with the seven-time NASCAR champion behind the wheel.

After spinning because of a tire puncture during his second time in the car, Johnson then collided with the No. 15 Mercedes being driven by Dirk Muller in Turn 3 just past 2 a.m. ET and the halfway mark of the race.

The damage necessitated a lengthy stop in the Daytona International Speedway garage to repair a broken right rear suspension on the No. 48.

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

HOW TO WATCH ON NBC SPORTSAll the information for 24 hours of viewing

The No. 48 finished 22 laps down in 11th overall, fifth among DPi cars.

“All in all, we had a reasonable Ally Cadillac and a reasonable opportunity to win,” Johnson said in a postrace release. “I was overtaking a (GT) car into the night. My right rear tapped his front going into the Esses in Turn 2, and with that touch, it broke the rear suspension and sent me off spinning into the grass.

“That is where we lost all of our laps. I went through there 50 or 60 times through the course of the weekend and that one time I tapped another car and broke the Ally Cadillac. Every lap matters for us. We are not regulars. For Action Express and Hendrick Motorsports the more reps we get behind the wheel the better we will be.”

This was the ninth bid to win the Rolex 24 for Johnson after the No. 48 had finished second last year.

It already had been an eventful race for the Action Express team, which had been leading with Kamui Kobayashi at the eight-hour mark.

The No. 48 Ally team had to replace the front and rear of the car in the pits after Jose Maria Lopez, making his Rolex 24 debut, had been hit by Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 01 Cadillac.

‘LESS OF A WEAK LINK’: Improved Jimmie Johnson says it’s his best shot at Rolex 24

The repairs happened under yellow while Johnson was in the car, and when he returned to the track just ahead of the restart, he was caught in a gaggle of GT cars. He had to take evasive action through the grass to avoid a crash just ahead.

“When the track went green, I had a couple of hairy moments down the front straightaway trying to sneak by on the wall,” Johnson said. “Once we came out of Turn 1, there was dirt and dust everywhere, and I could see some taillights. I turned right to miss the taillights, then realized I was out in the grass.”

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion couldn’t recall the last time he’d been off course during his previous eight Rolex 24 starts.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It probably was one of the few times I’ve been in the dirt. Couldn’t believe how much dirt the nose shoveled up over the front of the car and how bad my visibility was. Plus, being behind other cars out there.

“It drove decent in the dirt. I expected to go spinning and didn’t with how cold it is and being moisture in the grass, it would have been slick but drove through OK.”

During a stint that ran more than 90 minutes, Johnson, who was making his fifth IMSA endurance start in the past year, felt vindicated about his improvement from last year’s Rolex 24. Shortly after he handed off again to Kobayashi, the No. 48 was back in the lead.

“For sure, each rep I get in these cars,” he said. “You really don’t get seat time until race time, and if you’re not on pace, you get pulled early because it’s so competitive in the DPi class. Last year I wasn’t close enough to earn more drive time. Just got to hit the minimum and get out. This year, I seemed be on pace. I think (the season finale at Petit) was the first time they asked me to stay in the car longer.”

With six hours remaining in the race, four of the seven DPi cars remained in contention for the overall victory. Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 01 and 02 Cadillacs suffered problems that left each more than 25 laps down.

The Acuras of Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing, which is seeking a record fourth consecutive Rolex 24 victory, were running 1-2 with six hours remaining on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. Both cars overcame early tire punctures that had dropped them off the lead lap.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”