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2021 IMSA/ Rolex 24 Entry List Unpicked: Part 1, DPi

By Ryan Kish

It’s been a tumultuous year all around and motorsport has not been spared some of the impacts from the global situation.

That has played a part in stalling growth, and indeed in seeing some retraction, in the premier Dpi class in IMSA’s Weathertech Sportscar championship for 2021.

A single Mazda, a single JDC-Miller-run Cadillac and a second Action Express Cadillac confirmed only for the Rolex 24 are offset to some degree by the good news from Chip Ganassi Racing, and a refresh of the Acura effort, Penske’s programme over, replaced by a pair of highly motivated customer teams.

It’s seven cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and six for the full season as things stand.

#01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Kevin Magnussen, Renger Van Der Zande, Scott Dixon (Endurance)

Chip Ganassi Racing is back in IMSA and they bring the #01 from the Daytona Prototype days. The driver lineup is also a fascinating one with ex-Haas Formula 1 driver Kevin Magnussen pairing with Renger Van Der Zande.

For Magnussen, it’s a new world of motorsport but one that he will be very familiar with from his father Jan’s time with Corvette Racing. We’ve seen multiple Formula 1 drivers (and in many cases F1 drivers before they became F1 drivers) come over to race in IMSA but Magnussen’s stint will be different as he is set for a full-season campaign. He had expressed an interest in sports car racing in the past and he was rumoured for a Rolex 24 drive in 2017 that did not materialize. How Magnussen gets along throughout a full season of sportscar racing will be fascinating to see.

As for Van Der Zande, this program is a great place to land. After Wayne Taylor Racing elected not to bring him along for their 2021 DPi program with the Acura ARX-05c, it seemed Van Der Zande could be left without a ride. A staggering fact considering the two-time Rolex 24 winner has been amongst the top DPi drivers since the introduction of the formula. As the Chip Ganassi Racing program emerged with a Cadillac DPi-V.R., Van Der Zande was a natural choice.

Like Van Der Zande, Dixon is a refugee from the Wayne Taylor Racing operation. Given Dixon has won six NTT IndyCar Series championships with Chip Ganassi, he is a natural choice to fill in as the endurance driver. He has three Rolex 24 at Daytona wins, including two with Ganassi and one with the Cadillac DPi that he’ll drive in this year’s race.

#5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R. Tristan Vautier, Loic Duval, Sebastian Bourdais (Endurance)

JDC-Miller Motorsports is back in DPi with an all-French driver lineup. This will be the second season that JDC-Miller partners with Mustang Sampling Racing to run the Cadillac DPi-V.R. JDC-Miller Motorsports’ #85 Cadillac DPi that ran last season is not slated to return.

Duval, who competed in the endurance rounds last season, steps up to a full-time driver role in 2021. A winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Audi Sport Team Joest, Duval is highly experienced in prototype racing and will be a key part of the team’s campaign. This will be his first full season of IMSA.

Vautier is back for his third season with JDC-Miller Motorsports after racing in both the #5 and #85 Cadillacs last season. Vautier, though, has not found the same level of success as his teammates, last scoring an IMSA podium at Circuit of the Americas in 2017 in a Mercedes-AMG GT3. JDC-Miller Motorsports lurked around the edges of the podium in 2020 but a one-car programme in 2021 combined with the experience of Duval might give Vautier a better chance at success.

For the endurance rounds, the team will be joined by Sebastian Bourdais. There’s not much more you can ask for when looking for a third driver. Bourdais scored a podium in 2020 at the Rolex 24 with JDC-Miller Motorsports and has plenty of experience in endurance racing from his time with the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT programme which included a Le Mans win in 2016. His endurance campaign in IMSA will be secondary to his full-season effort in the NTT IndyCar series with A.J. Foyt Racing.

#10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05c Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi (Endurance), Helio Castroneves (Rolex 24)

Wayne Taylor Racing has been one of the top teams in DPi and found immediate success with the Cadillac DPi-V.R. winning the first five races of the 2017 season. Since then, they’ve won the Rolex 24 the past two years and have had high-caliber drivers like Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, and Scott Dixon in their stable. This season, they’ll switch from the Cadillac to the Acura ARX-05c, a championship-winning car. How WTR gets on with the new chassis will be a storyline to watch.

As for the drivers, it’s an all-star lineup, starting with Ricky Taylor. Taylor rejoins his father’s team after three season and a championship with Acura Team Penske. His 2020 season included four wins and he will bring with him an extensive amount of experience in the Acura DPi to his father’s team. He has driven the Acura in every race since its debut in 2018.

Albuquerque’s 2020 season was the stuff of legends. European Le Mans Series LMP2 champion, World Endurance Championship LMP2 champion, and 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 winner. Of the 17 races Albuquerque was a part of across ELMS, WEC, and IMSA last year, he won eight of them, a staggering 47%-win percentage. He’ll enter the 2021 racing season as one of the best prototype drivers in the world. This will be his eighth Rolex 24.

Like, Taylor, Alexander Rossi slides over from the Acura Team Penske program that ended after the 2020 season. He’ll serve in the same role with Wayne Taylor Racing as he joins the squad as their endurance driver. He finished on the podium at the 2019 Rolex 24 with Taylor and Castroneves. Like Bourdais, this program will run alongside his main duties in the NTT IndyCar Series with Andretti Autosport.

Finally, Helio Castroneves will complete the team’s Rolex 24 lineup. The three-time Indy 500 winner won his first championship last season with Taylor in the #7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05c. Castroneves will only be in the team for the Rolex 24. To say the word “retirement” and Helio Castroneves in the same sentence is a tall order, but the 45-year-old is getting closer to that time. He’s a legend in the sport but it’s tough to make the case for him in a full-season entry when looking at who Wayne Taylor Racing have in the car already.

#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Mike Conway (Endurance), Chase Elliot (Rolex 24)

No surprises for Action Express Racing this season… wait… Chase Elliot? Yes, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion joins the rock steady AXR stable for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in what is otherwise an unchanged lineup for the team. With so many changes elsewhere, this could be a strong season for AXR.

Felip Nasr is back for his fourth season with the team, a championship in 2018, two Rolex 24 podiums, a Sebring 12 Hours win, and a Petit Le Mans win, Nasr is well-credentialed in the Cadillac DPi-V.R. There’s not much else to say about Nasr, he’s been one of the top drivers since the introduction of DPi and will likely stay in the upper echelon this season.

It’s hard to mention Nasr without mentioning Pipo Derani — the Brazilian duo is back together for their third season. The pair fell just short of an IMSA DPi title in 2019 and Derani finished fourth in 2020. Nasr finished eighth last season after missing the second Daytona round due to COVID-19. Derani and Nasr scored four podiums last season.

Mike Conway is back with the team for his fourth Rolex 24 at Daytona. He is coming off a 2020 season that saw him finally claim the World Endurance Championship title with Toyota Gazoo Racing in the TS050. His last IMSA podium came at Sebring in 2018, since then it’s been tough finishes of seventh, sixth, seventh, and seventh again. He’s not the strongest driver in the car, but the endurance driver rarely is. For your endurance driver you’re looking for experience and a steady hand, Conway brings that to the table.

Finally, there’s Chase Elliot who will be making his sportscar racing debut at the Rolex 24. Of Elliot’s 11 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, five of them have come on road courses, including one win at the Daytona Road Course that NASCAR used in August of last year. Elliot, though, will face the same kinds of questions that even Fernando Alonso experienced when he came to sportscar racing. How will he handle the traffic? How will he fare in the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. stint in the could be in the rain? One thing is for sure, the roughly 2,000 citizens of Dawsonville, Georgia will have their eyes on the Daytona International Speedway a month earlier than usual this year. Will the town sirens sound to indicate an Elliot win at the end of January?

#48 Action Express Racing/Hendrick Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R. Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller

This Rolex 24-only entry from AXR and Hendrick brings what is likely the strongest lineup in DPi. In this lineup, there’s a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (Johnson), an NTT IndyCar Series champion, and Indy 500 winner (Pagenuad), an FIA WEC champion, and two-time Rolex 24 winner (Kobayashi), and a two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner and six-time Rolex 24 podium finisher (Rockenfeller). These four men bring experience in everything from NASCAR to Formula 1 to DTM to LMP1 to Super GT.

Starting with Johnson, he’ll need a little refresher but he’s far from a rookie at the Rolex 24. This will be his eighth start at the Rolex 24 after last racing in 2011 in a Gainsco/Bob Stallings Riley DP. His best finish at the race is second, which he accomplished twice, most recently in 2008. What Johnson is doing in 2021 is similar to what Alonso did after stepping away from Formula 1. After conquering his main discipline, Johnson is now on a motorsports tour. In addition to this Rolex 24 entry, he’ll spend 2021 in the NTT IndyCar Series with a road and street course programme with Chip Ganassi Racing. Johnson is a legend in North American motorsports and if he wants to do more, he can. He’ll have no trouble finding willing sponsors or teams. If you’re a team owner and Johnson wants to drive with you, you’ll find room for him.

Kobayashi won the Rolex 24 in 2019 and 2020 with Wayne Taylor Racing, but he was not signed on for a third year with the team. Like Renger Van Der Zande was a natural full-season driver, Kobayashi is a natural Rolex 24 driver, particularly with his experience in the Cadillac DPi-V.R. that he drove to victory twice. He’s an excellent driver who finally captured his first FIA WEC LMP1 championship after he and his teammates, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez, played second fiddle to the sister car in the 2018-19 WEC season.

Pagenuad was one of a number of free agents left without a ride after the conclusion of the Acura Team Penske programme. He has a Petit Le Mans podium to his name, but he has struggled at the Rolex 24 with just one top-five finish in three years. Still, he’s a talented driver with experience in sportscar racing dating back to the Peugeot LMP1 programme. Pagenuad will return to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021 for his seventh full season with Team Penske.

The most experienced endurance driver in this lineup (and that’s saying something) is Mike Rockenfeller. A veteran of the Audi LMP1 programme he is back for his fourteenth Rolex 24 at Daytona after spending the last four years with Corvette Racing. He has one win at the Rolex 24, which came in 2010 in an Action Express Racing Riley DP. Racing teams usually don’t have team captains, but if they did, Rockenfeller would likely be the captain of this one. He brings a treasure-trove of experience to the table and he will be an invaluable asset for Johnson as he tries to relearn the ropes of endurance racing.

#55 Mazda RT-24P Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell, Jonathon Bomarito (Endurance)

Mazda will enter the 2021 season with a reduced operation as they scale back from their two-car operation into a one-car programme. It’s a disappointing loss but it’s been somewhat offset by long-term developments elsewhere in the sport and even new short-term endeavours by others within DPi. Mazda claimed one of the most important victories in the programme’s history at the Sebring 12 Hours last season and they will look to expand on that this season. Their driver lineup this season is a mash-up from their two-car effort last season and the car, DSC believes, will be liveried in a variation of the white colour scheme sported by the #77 car in 2020.

Jarvis moves over from the #77 Mazda RT-24P into this year’s full-season lineup. He set the lap record at Daytona International Speedway in 2019 and nearly bested his own time in 2020. Mazda’s decision to keep him on board as they scaled down to a one-car operation clearly shows the amount of confidence they have in him. However, Jarvis’ last win with Mazda came in 2019 at Canadian Tyre Motorsports Park and he is yet to win an endurance race with the team. He has knocked on the door of success with podiums at the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 Hours in recent years.

Tincknell was part of the Mazda lineup that scored the brand’s first victory at the 2019 Six Hours of Watkins Glen and was part of the crew that drove to victory at the Sebring 12 Hours last year. He has two Le Mans wins, including one last year with Aston Martin Racing. He’s a top tier driver and the full season pairing of him and Jarvis will be interesting to watch. You could easily make the argument that Mazda took the best of their two lineups from 2020 and combined them into this one for 2021.

For the endurance rounds, Mazda has tapped Bomarito, who steps away from his full-time role in the #55 Mazda to this role as the team’s third driver. Bomarito is one of the longest-tenured Mazda drivers having been a part of the programme since the beginning of its DPi efforts with SpeedSource in 2015. It’s interesting to see that Mazda has chosen Bomarito for this seat as opposed to Tristan Nunez.

#60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-05c Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla, Juan Pablo-Montoya (Endurance), A.J. Allmendinger (Rolex 24)

After two GT Daytona championships with the Acura NSX GT3, Meyer Shank Racing moves up to DPi with the Acura ARX-05c. In GTD, they were often the class of the field, but in DPi with top-tier teams will they be able to find the same success? They’re a proven team with experience in prototype racing as recently as the 2016 IMSA season and the Acura ARX-05c is a championship-winner as we saw last year. Meyer Shank Racing will likely be one of the top DPi teams this season.

Cameron headlines this lineup. Another refugee from the Acura Team Penske programme, he scored three wins in on his way to a DPi championship with Juan Pablo-Montoya in 2019. This will be his eighth Rolex 24 at Daytona and the American is still looking for his first podium at the race. He does have podiums at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, though. Given his experience in the Acura DPi, he was a natural choice to spearhead this new entry for Meyer Shank Racing.

After Mazda announced their scaled-back operation and that Pla would not be a part of their plans, he became one of the top free agents, though perhaps not as a full-time driver. The Frenchman has filled in as the endurance driver for Mazda for the past two seasons, but he now gets the nod for a full-season campaign. Pla has a previous connection with Meyer Shank Racing team owner Michael Shank, he raced with Shank in IMSA in 2016 and won Petit Le Mans that year in a Ligier JS P2. With Shank back in prototype racing, he has called on Pla again.

Montoya steps back from his fulltime role with Acura Team Penske into this new role as Meyer Shank Racing’s endurance driver. Montoya has driven everything from Formula 1 to NASCAR to Le Mans. The only thing between Montoya and the Triple Crown is a win at the Le Mans 24 after his 2000 and 2015 wins at the Indy 500 and his win at the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix.

Finally, there’s Allmendinger who is back for his fifteenth Rolex 24 at Daytona with Michael Shank. He won the race overall in 2012 and has two podium finishes since then. This will be Allmendinger’s first time in a prototype since 2016 in the Ligier JS P2. Allmendinger’s 2020 racing season was perhaps more notable for his oval ventures. Always known as a road course ringer in NASCAR, he finally broke through for his first win on an oval at the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had eight top-ten finishes in twelve starts in the 2020 Xfinity Series including a second win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.