By Jeff Olson IMSA Wire Service
It wasn’t as much about driving fast as it was about familiar territory.
Two-time defending Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Kamui Kobayashi opened the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with the fastest lap Friday during the first day of testing at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
His lap of 1 minute, 35.312 seconds (134.463 mph) around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile DIS road course in the No. 48 Action Express Racing Ally Cadillac DPi V.R was 0.385 seconds faster than the closest competitor.
But the thrill for Kobayashi wasn’t being atop the speed chart. It was being in a familiar car on a familiar track again. The former Formula 1 driver returned to a Cadillac DPi, in which he won the Rolex 24 the past two seasons with Wayne Taylor Racing.
“I’m very happy to be returning to the Daytona 24 again,” Kobayashi said. “Being back in the same car and same engine but a different team, I still feel the car is great. I fit quite well with this package. When I got in the car, I felt really comfortable.”
Kobayashi will share the car with Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller for the 59th Rolex 24 on Jan. 30-31. The team will attempt to put the car on the pole position in Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100, a 100-minute race that will determine the starting lineup for the Rolex 24.
Ricky Taylor was second fastest in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, recording a lap of 1:35.697 (133.922 mph) in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05. Felipe Nasr was third in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Whelen Engineering Cadillac.
Nicolas Lapierre recorded the fastest lap in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class at 1:37.741 in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07. James Calado was quickest in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class with a lap of 1:43.680 in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.
Moritz Kranz had the fastest lap of the day in the new Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class at 1:43.500 in the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine M30-D08. Christina Nielsen was fastest in GT Daytona (GTD) at 1:46.194 in the No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche 911 GT3R.
WeatherTech Championship testing continues Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying for the Motul Pole Award 100 begins at 3 p.m., with a night practice session scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Sunday and can be viewed live on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass. A race broadcast can be seen on NBCSN at 4:30 p.m.
Live coverage of the Rolex 24 begins Jan. 30 at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.
McAleer Leads Prototype Challenge Practice
The new-look IMSA Prototype Challenge debuted with practice Friday ahead of the season-opening race, the Scouts of America 145, on Saturday. Nineteen entries split between two classes participated in a pair of 45-minute practices for the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) entries, with Steven McAleer topping the combined-session time chart.
Driving the No. 43 Robillard Racing Duqueine M30-D08 he shared with Joe Robillard, McAleer put in a best lap of 1 minute, 42.986 seconds (124.444 mph) around the 3.56-mile Daytona road course during the morning practice. McAleer and Robillard teamed to finish 10th last year in the Prototype Challenge championship standings, despite missing one race. Their entry is among 16 in the LMP3-1 class for new-generation cars.
Tonis Kasemets, in the No. 60 Wulver Racing Ligier JS P3, was quick among the LMP3-2 competitors with a lap of 1:45.930 (120.985 mph) during the afternoon session.
Qualifying for the Scouts of America 145 takes place at 8:45 a.m. ET Saturday. The race, the first of six on the 2021 schedule, begins at 12:50 p.m. Saturday and streams live in the U.S. on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and internationally on IMSA.com.
Pumpelly Powers to Front in Michelin Pilot Challenge Testing
Spencer Pumpelly put the No. 38 BGB Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 atop the time chart following the opening day of IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge testing at Daytona International Speedway. The veteran IMSA racer turned a lap of 1:54.130 (112.293 mph) in the first of two sessions, edging Bill Auberlen in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 by 0.337 seconds in the Grand Sport (GS) class.
Jon Morley set the pace in the Touring Car (TCR) division, posting a best lap of 2:00.194 (106.627 mph), also in the opening session, in the No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS DSG. It was a scant 0.023 seconds better than Tim Lewis in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR.
Pilot Challenge teams and drivers have three more test sessions this weekend, two on Saturday and another on Sunday. The series’ season opens Friday, Jan. 29 with the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge, part of Rolex 24 At Daytona week.