Three-quarters of the “dream team” assembled by Action Express Racing for next month’s Rolex 24 At Daytona shook down their No. 48 AXR/Ally Cadillac Cadillac DPi-V.R entries at Daytona International Speedway this week, and came away all the more confident about their prospects for victory in the Jan. 30-31 classic.
AXR will field an Indy 500 winner, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and a Rolex 24 and Le Mans 24 Hour champ in Simon Pagenaud, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller, while two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi missed the test but will also join in the fun in next month’s race. For Johnson, who retired from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition in November, it will be making his eighth Rolex 24 start but first since 2011.
“It’s been a while,’’ Johnson said of getting behind the wheel of an IMSA prototype. “The car has evolved I think two generations since my last race in the Rolex 24. And I think we’re 8-10 seconds faster with this DPi configuration than what I did in the Grand-Am car. So (a) very fun car to drive, lots of downforce, lots of speed. The Action Express guys have the car running really nice.
Day two of testing is looking good. 👌 pic.twitter.com/0O9U2S2HOV
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) December 10, 2020
“We had a great day and super quick, so it’s just a really neat opportunity for me to still have an association with Ally. Mr. (Rick) Hendrick will be involved to a certain degree. To drive for Action, to have this opportunity to compete with Kamui, with Simon and with Mike, it’s just such a unique opportunity and one I’m really proud to be a part of,’’ added Johnson, whose best Rolex 24 finish is runner-up on two occasions (2005 and 2008).
This will be Pagenaud’s seventh Rolex 24 start. The 2019 Indy 500 champion moves from the Team Penske Acura program the last three years to the Action Express Cadillac. Rockenfeller won the 2010 Rolex 24 driving for Action Express.
“I’ve always looked up to Jimmie,’’ said Pagenaud, who is close friends with Johnson’s younger brother Jessie. “When I came to the U.S., he became the legend that he is and for me, I didn’t know much about oval racing — and Jimmie and I actually talked about this — he throughout the years made some special moves on ovals and inspired myself from his performance. He is the king. You look at what the king does and you try to emulate that yourself.
— Simon Pagenaud (@simonpagenaud) December 8, 2020
“It’s been very, very enjoyable to get to know him as a human being as well. We have very similar personalities and I think it’s going to be great chemistry on the team. And Rocky (Rockenfeller), we have friends in common so we spend time together often.
“I really think we will have a fantastic time. We have a similar desire and I think (we are) at very similar times in our career on the team. Everybody seems to be very much on the same page.’’
“At the end of the day, I think the cool thing about our line-up is definitely there is no ego, because everyone wants to do their best,’’ Rockenfeller added. “We all love racing and driving cars, but we love even more winning and that’s why we are here.”
Johnson said he was impressed by the deliberate way in which Action Express worked to fill out its line-up with other champions.
“I watched them take their time and be very methodical about how we’d all fit together,’’ Johnson said. “And of course, you have to meet all these criteria to be on the short list, but long story short, they were very intentional about us four together, and I think that’s why we feel the possibility is here and that we do truly have an opportunity to compete for the win.”