By Godwin Kelly MSA Wire Service
|He’s back. |
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will make another run at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup in 2022 with support again from an all-star roster of drivers from around the world.
Action Express Racing announced Tuesday that, in conjunction with 14-time NASCAR Cup Series champion team Hendrick Motorsports, it will enter the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R in the four endurance races on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar, beginning with next month’s Rolex 24 and including the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in June and the Motul Petit Le Mans in October.
Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller return to the No. 48 lineup from this year, with Jose Maria Lopez the fourth driver. Kobayashi and Lopez teamed with Mike Conway – the endurance-race driver for Action Express’ No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac – to take the overall win at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“This is a phenomenal team,” Johnson said of the 2022 lineup.
Johnson, Kobayashi, Rockenfeller and Simon Pagenaud finished second in this year’s Rolex 24, 4.704 seconds behind the winning No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. It wound up their best result in the four endurance races. The aim is to improve on that.
“Last season we finished second just a few seconds back,” Johnson said, who will make his ninth Rolex 24 start next month. “It’s hard to imagine that a 24-hour race is only decided by (less than five) seconds. We didn’t have the speed we needed on our final run.
“I’m really excited to be back with Kobayashi, plus Mike and Jose,” he added. “We have such a strong lineup, it just blows my mind. Two of the four guys I will race with at Daytona are champions of the (FIA World Endurance Championship). This is a huge opportunity for me.” Lopez has one past IMSA start (at Sebring in 2007) and the Rolex 24 in January will mark his only appearance in the No. 48 in 2022. Johnson, Kobayashi and Rockenfeller will carry the car forward at Sebring International Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
|The addition of the No. 48 Cadillac lifts the number of DPi entries for the Rolex 24 to seven. Gary Nelson, team manager at Action Express, believes the No. 48 crew and drivers are up to the challenge of taking on six full-season DPi foes.|
“It’s good to have Jimmie back leading the driver lineup in the Ally Cadillac for the four endurance events in 2022,” Nelson said. “We have a little more time to get up to speed this time for the Rolex 24 in January. The team showed a lot of promise last year, finishing second at the Rolex and showing strong pace at Sebring.
“We will be working closely with Rick Hendrick’s group led by Chad Knaus. Jose Maria is new to the car this year. He is a Le Mans 24 winner and WEC champion, and I am sure he will be up to speed very quickly when he steps in the Ally Cadillac.”
Lopez chuckled when the 38-year-old Argentinian thought of himself as being a “rookie” for the Rolex 24.
“It’s good to be a ‘rookie’ after 30 years of motor racing,” he said. “I’ve been trying to (race in North America) for a long time. I always liked IMSA and American racing. Finally, this year I’ll be part of an IMSA team.”
Lopez has captured the past two WEC championships with Kobayashi and Conway – in Le Mans Prototype 1 in 2019-20 and in Hypercar this year. The 38-year-old from Argentina is just as excited be partnering with Johnson as Johnson is with him.
“It’s really cool because, as a big fan of racing, I’ve been following Jimmie for a long time and now to be sharing a car with him is very nice,” Lopez said. “I have a lot of respect for him and I’m really happy to have him as a teammate.”
Rockenfeller felt the same.
“I’m very happy to be back and being with the team again, doing Daytona and finishing second, just missing the victory,” he said. “Very happy to be back with the team for the four endurance races and to race with Jimmie. I enjoy working with the team. I didn’t know Jimmie that much, but I have been following his career for a long time.”
Kobayashi is a two-time Rolex 24 winner, in 2019 and ’20 driving a Cadillac with Wayne Taylor Racing. The 35-year-old from Japan thinks the No. 48 will benefit from the experience of last season.
“This will be my second year with Jimmie,” Kobayashi said. “We will come into 2022 with the goal of winning races. I know Jose Maria quite well as my teammate in the WEC with Toyota. He will need a little time to get used to the Cadillac DPi-V.R, but he will be a fast addition to the team.“Mike knows the car and the tracks in America. It is good he will be with us for the season. We had a lot of lessons to learn in 2021, as a team, which only makes us more confident for 2022.”
Johnson, who will drive a full IndyCar Series season in 2022 in addition to his WeatherTech Championship endurance schedule, is looking forward to absorbing as much as possible from his thoroughbred sports car co-drivers.
“I’m very honored to be part of this crew,” he said. “This is helping me in this high-downforce world that I have very little experience in. It’s great to have such fast drivers to help us get to victory lane and also such friendly drivers to help teach me and help grow my craft.”
On-track action for the 2022 WeatherTech Championship season begins with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 from Jan. 21-23 at Daytona International Speedway. Rolex 24 race week runs Jan. 27-30. The 60th edition of the famed 24-hour race starts at 1:40 p.m. ET Saturday, Jan. 29.