Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona - Saturday Notebook
Saturday, January 4, 2020

By HOLLY CAIN
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – News and notes from around Daytona International Speedway on the Saturday of the Roar Before the Rolex 24.

Hailie Deegan Ready To Gain Road Course Experience at Roar and Rolex 24
No, Hailie Deegan conceded with a wide grin, she never expected that her competitive debut on the famous Daytona International Speedway high banks would come in a sports car.

But judging by the smiles and ease she showed Saturday afternoon speaking with reporters at Daytona between Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona practice sessions, she’s eager and mentally prepared for her IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race debut at the grand track on Jan. 24. The in-car skills and sports car initiation is coming together too, she said.

“I never thought I’d race a road course especially at Daytona, that was new for me,’’ Deegan said. “I always thought my first time at Daytona would be in an ARCA car but I’m happy to be here on the road course.’’

Deegan‘s ARCA Menards Series season debut at Daytona will follow the Rolex 24 race weekend and comes only weeks after the 18-year old Californian was formally introduced as a Ford Performance development driver. She will co-drive a Ford Mustang GT4 with NASCAR Xfinity Series frontrunner Chase Briscoe in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona later this month. Austin Cindric, another young Ford talent in the Xfinity Series, will be driving a Multimatic Motorsports Inc. team car as well, teaming with Sebastian Priaulx in the No. 15 Mustang.

In February, Deegan will compete in the season-opening ARCA Menards Series race that essentially opens Daytona Speedweeks – the green flag to a much-anticipated full season of stock car racing. All three of these young NASCAR stars say they are grateful for the chance to begin their season early, confident that the extra laps will only help their skillset.

“I’m really excited just to gain experience in these new cars,’’ Deegan said. “Just everything’s new. A fresh start. It’s waiting to get planned out, meeting new people, new faces, new relationships. I’m excited to grow the relationships in the Ford family and everyone that’s a part of it.

“One thing I haven’t really touched on in my career is road courses, pavement road course type stuff. Coming here and filling that base of what I’m missing as a driver as a hole is definitely going to help me be all around as a driver.

“I feel what makes a good driver is a driver that’s not just good at ovals or road courses they are good at everything and have that skill set. I think if I can just keep getting better skill sets to bring to my career, it will help even more.’’

Deegan and Briscoe certainly gave proof of their talent and ability to learn the new car and course. They were 14th fastest overall in the opening practice, ninth quickest in the second session and finally fifth best in the latest round.

Cindric and Priaulx were fourth fastest in the second session – tops among the two Multimatic team cars.

Kyle Busch Making Strides
Kyle Busch rolled into a Rolex 24 fan question-and-answer session Saturday afternoon between practice sessions sounding every bit as confident and optimistic as one would expect of the most recently crowned NASCAR Cup Series champion.

The room had many kiddos and fans dressed in Busch’s NASCAR colors and sponsors. And he entered into the room joking and smiling, immediately instigating a fun give-and-take between his teammates on the two AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC GTD-class teams.

Busch teased New Zealand teammate Shane van Gisbergan, a former Australian Supercar champion, about translating speed from kilometers to miles per hour. And Busch joked about the slim chance that he would drive at night in his first Rolex 24. His teammates teased that the reigning NASCAR champ was already slated for the treacherous midnight-to-6 a.m. driving shift on the 3.56-mile Daytona road course.

“My eyes will be shut – sleeping or driving,’’ he said smiling.

Busch certainly looked comfortable. And his team clearly was. Busch’s teammate Jack Hawksworth turned in the fastest lap of the class on Friday, giving the team reason to feel good about its chances in the crowded 18-car GTD class.

Hawksworth, a British IndyCar and sports car star, said he had complete confidence in his teammate.

“It’s been good fun,’’ Hawksworth said. “We just got to work and Kyle got in the car and was straightaway competitive.

“I don’t need to help him drive,’’ Hawksworth assured the audience, “just help transition his skills.’’

It will be Busch’s first Rolex 24 start, but not his first IMSA race at Daytona. In 2008 he teamed with Scott Speed in a Chip Ganassi-prepared prototype. And Busch said he’s done several go-kart endurance races, including a 24-hour event. Additionally, he said he was encouraged to hear his teammates this weekend expressing similar technical ideas regarding the Lexus race car as he had.

“You’ve certainly got to pay attention to your rearview mirror and know what’s going on around you and coming up behind you, the faster cars and a closing rate that’s certainly greater than you’re used to ever, even if you’re a slow guy on a (NASCAR) Sunday - it’s a big deal,’’ said Busch, who noted his NASCAR Cup Series spotter will be working the Rolex 24 with him.

The biggest adjustment he says is, “the sharing of the seat is interesting because you want to be in the car as much as possible so you can continue to evolve and make yourself better. For me, not being as experienced in these cars, they gave me the most seat time yesterday [in practice] which was good and beneficial. The other guys need their seat time too, however, so that’s certainly a big compromise.’’

Even the veteran Busch conceded he was excited to suit up and take on this next challenge – as were the many fans already on hand at Daytona International Speedway even for a practice session.

“There’s a ton of people here and we’re at a test,’’ Busch said. “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when we come back to the Rolex. It’s certainly awesome to see the crowd count and the interest people have in IMSA.’’

“I know I can’t wait,’’ said race fan Suzy Brake, 70, of The Villages, Florida, leaning forward to show off her green M&Ms adorned hat – Busch’s NASCAR Cup Series No. 18 large and center.

Acura Team Penske has eyes set on endurance races in 2020
After winning the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) title, Acura Team Penske drivers have one goal in mind for the 2020 season – win endurance races.

The team returns the six drivers who piloted their pair of cars in the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona and will maintain the same lineups. 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud will run the endurance races alongside last year’s season champions Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 6 car; 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi is the endurance driver joining full-season drivers Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 ride.

This marks the third season of Penske’s return to IMSA and it has been a successful venture – Castroneves and Taylor won a race (Mid-Ohio) in their inaugural campaign and the No. 6 car won three races and the DPi championship last year.

Pagenaud, who added a major piece of hardware to his mantle with the Borg Warner Trophy last May, wants to add to his collection to start the year.

“It’s a very important moment of the season, starting here at Daytona,” he said while speaking to media during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday. “It’s a pleasure to join them back and support them in the quest for another championship, but most importantly the bigger endurance races. I’m very excited about Daytona, certainly want to add that to the trophy list.”

The sentiment that their primary goal for the new year is to bring home the first endurance win for Acura Team Penske was echoed across the board by all six drivers.

“It was really good for the (No.) 6 car to get the championship and the three wins,” Taylor said. “So, for 2020 the last thing on the checklist is the endurance races. For the three of us, winning the Rolex would be the top of the priority list for this year.”

“I think when you’re at Team Penske, every week it’s a must-win situation,” Montoya added when asked what the emphasis from the team has been regarding the endurance race wins that have eluded them. “When you are with Acura and with Team Penske and you have the equipment you have in your hands, you’re supposed to deliver and that’s your job.”

But according to Castroneves, the plan regarding endurance races can be stated more simply.

“To win.”

No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Team Has New Look, Same Goal
Wayne Taylor Racing’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team took their seats on stage Saturday to speak with media showing off a new lineup of drivers, talking about the same team goals. A fourth Rolex 24 crown for their leader Taylor.

Taylor was joined on stage by Renger van der Zande, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Kamui Kobayashi. Natives of Holland, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, the star-studded driving lineup includes top-line sports car drivers in van der Zande and Briscoe, who will compete the full season for Taylor, along with Indianapolis 500 winner and five-time IndyCar champion Dixon and FIA World Endurance Championship champion Kobayashi.

Their accomplishments are as broad as their backgrounds. And that’s exactly why this No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi team fully expects to defend its 2019 Rolex 24 title and be a contender once again in a race it has won twice in the last three years.

“As far as the driver lineup, it’s as good or better than last year,’’ Taylor said, joking that this team would have to beat his two sons this year – Ricky and Jordan Taylor who are now both driving for different IMSA teams.

Dixon, who has a pair of Rolex 24 overall titles, joins Taylor’s operation after more than a decade competing in the race for his IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi.

“The team is a single-car team, but it’s got a lot of great people and that’s what I think it takes to win these races is to have the talent and people that have the same goal in mind, and that’s to win. You feel that immediately when you walk through the door…and you don’t find that too often,” Dixon said.

“There are four professional drivers who know what it takes to win because we have all won it and you start right away working with that,’’ van der Zande said. “This has been very smooth. They all know endurance racing and they all know this race.

“And we all have the same passion for racing,’’ he added.

Grand Marshal Christian Fittipaldi
Versatile racer Christian Fittipaldi will serve as Grand Marshal for the Jan. 25-26 Rolex 24 at Daytona – a race he won three times overall (2004, 2014 and 2018) and finished runner-up twice.

Fittipaldi will deliver the starting command for the Rolex, which traditionally kicks off the motor racing season.

“Daytona has brought me a lot more happy moments than bad moments,’’ Fittipaldi said. “I’ll cherish Daytona for the rest of my life. I managed to win the race three times and I think I finished another three or four times on the podium. I can’t complain, I had a pretty decent run over here.’’

Fittipaldi who competed in NASCAR and IndyCar as well as sports cars, retired from the cockpit last season and even being at the racetrack, conceded he was comfortable as a spectator.

“I don’t feel the need to be in the car, so far I’m very good. I come to the track and I’m happy to be at the track and happy to be able to help but if you ask me, would you like to be in the car right now, yeah, maybe I’m curious. If you ask me, do you want to be in the car right now. No, I don’t want to be in the car right now.

“My heart is 100 percent at peace.’’

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