By Holly Cain IMSA Wire Service
The No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Action Express team will start its Cadillac DPi-V.R from pole position Saturday in the Rolex 24 At Daytona – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.
The car and its drivers have been consistently fast in testing, won the race to set the pole position and, by many accounts in the paddock, are widely considered the car to beat. Just don’t expect that to be the attitude of the team.
The full-season drivers, Brazilians Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani, along with reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott and racing veteran Mike Conway, of Great Britain, have instead insisted on an attitude of optimism, not overconfidence – an assurance that the team’s hard work and talent could result in a new Rolex watch for the foursome.
“We don’t consider ourselves the car to beat, but we try going to a race like this with the mentality that we have done all the best preparation that we possibly could,’’ Derani explained Friday, on the eve of the green flag.
“Now we know we have a great team. We know that we have great mechanics, strategy, engineers and drivers. But I think going into a race thinking you are the one to beat is not the right attitude and is not how we do ourselves in the Whelen Engineering/Action Express Racing team.
“We always try and be the most prepared we can, and we hope that by doing that over the last test and weeks, that that will be enough. But there are plenty of very, very experienced teams around with great lineups.
“It’s going to be a very difficult fight out there. But we are prepared, that’s for sure. Being the ‘ones to beat,’ I wouldn’t say, but we are definitely ready for the fight.’’
Action Express Racing has three overall victories in the Rolex 24 (2010, 2014 and 2018), including an amazing 1-2 finish for the team cars in the team’s most recent Rolex victory three years ago. Nasr and Conway co-drove the second-place car that year. Derani has an overall win in 2016 while with the Tequila Patron ESM team. A victory this weekend would mark the first time Nasr and Derani have co-driven to Rolex 24 glory.
“It’s a dream come true to have such a lineup and I’m super happy to represent in the race,’’ Nasr said. “Hopefully, we can bring this one home. I think my expectations are in line with what everybody said. We have proven in the past few weeks that the car has the capability to run up front. We did that in qualifying and in the pole award (race).
“All drivers here have had enough time to get used to it. And I hope we go out there and have fun. It’s a special race. I’m really happy to be representing our sponsors and our team, Whelen Engineering and Action Express Racing.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty good fight up front.’’
Live coverage of the 24-hour race begins at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC. After the first hour, the flag-to-flag coverage moves to NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App before returning to NBC on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the conclusion. Complete IMSA Radio coverage may also be found at IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius channel 216, XM 202 and Internet 972).