Ware’s social-inspired team provides chances for Eversley, NASCAR and around the globe

Ware Eurasia NASCAR Eversley
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Ryan Eversley has a new ride in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship that is all about job opportunity – across multiple series, nationalities and countries.

The popular sports car veteran and podcast host will make his season debut this weekend in the GTD category Saturday (5 p.m. ET, USA, Peacock) at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, driving the new No. 51 Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 for Rick Ware Racing.

The co-driver is Aidan Read, who also is an engineer for RWR’s NASCAR team (who worked with Eversley in his Cup debut with the No. 53 Ford at Road America last year).

IMSA AT LONG BEACH: Schedules info for watching Saturday’s race

Read is one of several crossovers from Ware’s NASCAR team, which also has moved some of its fabricators (who are less necessary in Cup because of the Next Gen’s vendor structure for chassis, body and parts) to the fledgling sports car program.

Rick Ware just opened a new shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, for his new IMSA team, which has had two one-day shakedowns at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina, to get ready for Long Beach.

“We have a handful of (NASCAR) guys who have been at the tests,” Eversley said Monday during a Zoom news conference. “Fabricators are a lot less used in the Cup garage, because they’re using purpose-built parts from suppliers, so we’ve got three to four guys who are still fabricators but are all hands on deck at our events to try to help out. That’s pretty cool.

“These are guys I worked with last year on the 53 car at Road America. So there are a lot of overall people on site helping. They’re not specialists in sports car racing. But Rick will tell you he has a lot of people and a lot going on, he’s not afraid to throw people at it.”

Ware, who also is a co-owner of an NTT IndyCar Series entry for Takuma Sato with Dale Coyne Racing, will race the Sprint Cup events this year with hopes to expand to a full GTD season in 2023.

The program is being overseen by former NASCAR team owner and IMSA team manager Robby Benton and also has a partnership with Eurasia Motorsport to supply crew to prepare the car.

The Philippines-based Eurasia competes in global prototype and sports cars series (and has raced at Le Mans and with a RWR-partnered LMP2 car in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona that included NASCAR’s Cody Ware and Austin Dillon).

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions have idled Eurasia Motorsport, which was formed in 2003 with the help of former Formula One safety car driver Mark Goddard (who is the team principal). Ware’s team has provided a lifeline for Eurasia, which has rented a house in America for six months to lodge its team members who now are working on the IMSA car.

“They can’t race too much; it’s really hard to get in and out of the (Philippines),” Eversley said. “So they needed an opportunity, Rick needed a crew, and they had a great experience in the past. Robby Benton has been facilitating getting these guys in the country and set up with housing.

“It’s kind of a really unique situation because obviously, I want to be in a GT car for Acura and doing the best I can for my career, but these guys need work because they can’t actually do anything in the Philippines right now without very extensive things behind the scenes to make that happen. Having them come over here the next six months and be able to send money home to their families … It’s keeping that team alive but keeping these people moving forward in life. So it’s a pretty neat scenario.

“Unfortunate circumstances, but to be a part of something like that is something not taken lightly. Aidan and I at the test, we tried to take care of the car as much as possible because the poor guys have been working so hard and so long to get this car ready, and we know they’re not going to get to see their families for a long time. It’s definitely not lost on us how that’s going to work for this program to work.”

Eversley, who will be making his first IMSA premier level start since 2018, also is grateful for the whimsical way in which he came to drive for Ware.

It started last year with Eversley playfully bugging the team owner on Twitter about racing the team’s LMP2 at Daytona.

The positive social reaction from fans caught the eye of Nurtec ODT (which also sponsors RWR in NASCAR and IndyCar). The company asked to put Eversley in its Cup car last July 4 at Road America (where he finished 39th because of a gear failure).

“We had such a good time,” Eversley said. “The Nurtec folks were so happy with some of the interviews I did and my on-track performance, so Rick said ‘Hey, how can we get Acura (an Eversley sponsor) and us together?’ ”

It’s been a scramble since last summer to prepare for the tight and treacherous confines of Long Beach, which Eversley concedes “might be the worst place to start a new program is a street course … we’re super stoked to get through Long Beach, out of the streets and get to some proper racetracks where there are less walls so close.”

His team has bought a car from Gradient Racing and has gotten support from RealTime Racing to help acquire all the parts and pit boxes for IMSA.

At Long Beach, RWR also will have sports car veteran and 2011 Cup Series rookie of the year Andy Lally on its pit stand for strategy calls.

Eversley likes the broad swath of racing backgrounds, particularly from NASCAR.

“Having a Cup fabricator on hand can be awesome because those guys have seen so much and done so much at those races, that they’re probably thinking about things in a way that myself and the Eurasia guys wouldn’t because we’re so used to doing things the sports car way,” he said. “Robby Benton, I can’t say enough about him overall. He’s done it on the sports car side and his Xfinity team.

“He’s been pushing Aidan and I to try to get sim time, more engineering time. Having a guy that passionate, but also if you know Robby, he’ll just tell you right to your face: Go do this. I like having a leader like that.”

He also likes driving for Ware, though he likely won’t race Cup again this year with RWR down to two charters and committed full time to Cody Ware and Joey Hand at road courses.

“Ford is backing Joey Hand, who is kind of good at road racing,” Eversley said. “So I don’t think I’ll be in the Cup Series, but Rick every day is like, ‘I’ll find something.’ He knows how bad I want to do it. I’ve been telling him over and over again, ‘Dude, you just bought me a GTD car. I’m good. This is where I belong and expect to be doing. I want to drive the Cup cars like crazy, but I’m not going to also say, “Hey, thanks for the GTD program, which is going to cost a gazillion dollars and all this responsibility behind your biggest sponsor. Can you also give me more?’ I’m not pushing that.”

Eversley said whether the program increases to a full IMSA season will depend on Nurtec’s satisfaction with sports cars.

“I think the fan reaction is going to be a big part of that,” Eversley said. “I think the car looks super awesome. The fact we can tie toward the Cup program and IndyCar program with the drivers who are there to help build the brand will really depend on it, but the idea was, ‘Let’s go see how the Sprint Cup goes, and then hopefully come back next year for a full assault.’ ”

If so, it’ll mean even more races to attend for Ware, whom Eversley said drove to his team’s IMSA test at 5 a.m. after arriving home from the Cup race at Circuit of the Americas just a few hours earlier.

“Rick’s really into this and very excited about it,” Eversley said. “It’s cool to have someone that passionate, but also he is telling me every time we speak, ‘This is your program. I want to help you and Acura do bigger things.’

“It’s not pressure. It’s support. I feel so backed by him and knowing that he has Cup cars, and I want to drive more Cup cars is definitely something I’m going to try to continue working with on him. It’s been pretty cool.”

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”