Rick Hendrick recently teased that seven-time Cup champion would compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. It is now official.
Action Express Racing announced Friday (Dec. 4) that Jimmie Johnson will head up a second Cadillac DPi-V.R. team, No. 48, for the Rolex 24 weekend. He’ll be joined by Simon Pagenaud, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in what will likely be one of the strongest driver lineups in the race. Ally Financial, Johnson’s sponsor with Hendrick Motorsports in 2020, will serve as the team’s primary sponsor.
“The Rolex 24 at Daytona is one of the marquee races in the world,” Johnson said in a press release. “It’s such a challenging event for both team and driver and requires such a high level of concentration throughout. It’s just such a fun and unique race to compete in. It’s such a challenging event for both team and driver and requires such a high level of concentration throughout. It’s just such a fun and unique race to compete in. This will be the first time I’ve raced with Action Express and have been very impressed with the team and its preparation. I’m also excited to have Ally on board and to be co-driving with Simon, Kamui, and Mike who are three world class drivers with experience in this race and the DPi Class. I’ve finished second in this event , so I’m looking forward to trying to get on the top step in 2021.”
For Johnson, January will mark his eighth start in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 10th sports car start overall. As noted above, his best finish is second overall in 2005 driving a Pontiac-powered Crawford chassis for Howard Boss Motorsports alongside sports car veterans Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Butch Leitzinger. He drove two Rolex 24s for Howard Boss Motorsports, one for Riley-Matthews Motorsports (2007) and four for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing. His most recent appearance in the race was in 2011.
For Action Express Racing, it is a genuine coup to get an all-star squad to come together for Daytona.
“We’ve been talking to Jimmie about running with us for many months,” said Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express Racing and former Cup crew chief. “It all came together in November with the support of Hendrick Motorsports and their tremendous partner, Ally. Jimmie has a lot of experience at Daytona, not only on the oval, but turning into the infield as well. Simon [Pagenaud] brings a lot of endurance experience and Kamui [Kobayashi] adds a wealth of car set-up knowledge and speed to the car. We won the Rolex 24 with Mike [Rockenfeller] in 2010, so he is familiar with how we operate. We’re looking at having a great 10-days in Daytona starting with the Roar Before the 24.”
Nelson also indicated that he has the blessing of Paul Miller Racing to use the No. 48 for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The Georgia-based (and New Jersey-owned) team has used the No. 48 in Grand-Am and IMSA competition since 2010.
Kobayashi is a former Formula 1 driver who is currently the lead driver for Toyota GAZOO Racing’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He has only two career starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. They have been the last two Rolex 24s with Wayne Taylor Racing. He won both of them. He’ll be joining for three in a row in January. Of the four drivers in the team, he is the only one of the four with previous experience driving the Cadillac DPi-V.R.
In addition to his full-time schedule in the NTT IndyCar Series for Team Penske, Pagenaud has spent the past couple of years in an endurance driver role for Acura Team Penske. Given that Team Penske runs Chevrolet engines in INDYCAR, there should be no manufacturer conflict of interest.
Pagenaud has seven previous starts in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, one in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series (2013) and six as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Five of the WeatherTech starts have been in the Prototype/DPi class, while his 2015 race was with Corvette Racing in the GT Le Mans class. His best prototype finish is a fourth from January of this year alongside Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Rockenfeller has significant experience in prototype racing from his time with Audi Sport Team Joest. However, Audi Sport’s prototypes never competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona due to the split in sports car racing that occurred prior to the creation of the first Audi LMP900 prototypes.
At Daytona, he has 13 career Rolex 24 starts, six of which came in Daytona Prototypes. As Nelson noted, he claimed overall victory in 2010 in the first-ever start for Action Express Racing. That feat was achieved in a Riley Mk. XI chassis with a Porsche V8 engine based on what was in the Cayenne at the time along with Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller and Ryan Dalziel. He did not compete in the race in 2020, but drove with Corvette Racing from 2016-2019. To this point, Rockenfeller has not raced a DPi chassis.
The No. 48 entry will be a second car for Action Express Racing. The No. 31 Whelen-sponsored Cadillac with Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani will be present as well. Additional endurance drivers for that car will be announced at a later date.