‘Old Friend’ Aids No. 60 Meyer Shank DPi Run toward Front

By Mark Robinson
IMSA Wire Service


Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya moved to a new home for the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and they brought along an old and trusted friend.
The 2019 series champions looked on contentedly Thursday afternoon as teammate AJ Allmendinger posted the fastest practice lap during Thursday afternoon’s practice in preparations for the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona. Allmendinger powered around the Daytona International Speedway road course in 1 minute, 34.287 seconds (135.925 mph) driving the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 DPi.
Thing is, that No. 60 is the same car that Cameron and Montoya used for much of last season, when it was the No. 6 Acura Team Penske. In this case, familiarity didn’t breed contempt. It brought speed.
“AJ was quickest there, and Juan was good on his running in that last session, so we’ve been making some good progress,” Cameron said. “We were a bit off in the morning and kind of pounding the racetrack. The guys were pretty flat out in the gap in between (sessions) to make some changes. We’re still learning quite a bit about the car. We seemed to find a decent spot there.”
Montoya agreed, saying the Acura enjoys the cooler conditions presented Thursday.
“I felt we were a little lost this morning and we made some good changes,” the two-time Indy 500 and three-time Rolex 24 winner said. “And in the last practice the car seemed to find some good speed. Normally when it’s cold conditions, the car seems to like that, so we’ll see what it brings. We’ve still got to execute the race and see what it brings.”
Cameron and Montoya brought their knowledge of the Acura from three seasons in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) machine with Team Penske to Meyer Shank this year. Cameron will pair with Olivier Pla for all WeatherTech Championship races in the No. 60. Montoya will join them for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events, with Allmendinger on board for the Rolex 24.
Having been down this road before in the Acura’s development, Cameron said he and Montoya serve as a sounding board for the team’s engineers on what has and hasn’t worked in the past.
“Really, for Juan and (me), it’s been more of trying to guide them,” Cameron said, “and letting them know if the feeling is right, the feeling is wrong and just keep them pointed in the right direction.”
Pla, who drove a prototype for Meyer Shank in 2016 when the team won the Motul Petit Le Mans, has been absorbing as much information as he can take in from the experienced Acura duo.
“Both of them have been great with me, helping me to learn the car, to understand the car,” Pla said. “They have got so much experience with this car, so I rely a lot on them, actually.”
The No. 60 Acura’s afternoon lap was edged for overall honors by Renger van der Zande during Thursday’s night practice. The two-time defending Rolex 24 overall winner pushed the No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi around the circuit in 1:34.146, just 0.141 seconds better than Allmendinger’s afternoon run.
Other class leaders after the three sessions were:
·      In Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), Mikkel Jensen in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07, at 1:35.979;
·      In Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320, at 1:42.416;
·      In GT Le Mans (GTLM), Nick Tandy in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, at 1:42.586;
·      In GT Daytona (GTD), Marco Mapelli in the No. 111 GRT Grasser Race Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3, at 1:45.593.
A final one-hour session starts at 11:20 a.m. ET Friday. The starting grid was determined last Sunday in the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race, won by the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi to earn the overall pole position in the 49-car field.
Live coverage of the Rolex 24 begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC and carries overnight on other NBC Sports platforms including NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App. The broadcast returns to NBC at 2 p.m. Sunday for the race conclusion. Flag-to-flag IMSA Radio coverage is also available on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com.
Tickets for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are available HERE.
Hardwick Sidelined from Rolex 24 Following Pilot Challenge Crash
Wright Motorsports driver Ryan Hardwick will miss the Rolex 24 with a concussion sustained Wednesday in a crash during IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge practice. He will be replaced in the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3R lineup by Trent Hindman, the 2019 WeatherTech Championship GTD champion.
“It’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to join the team for the big race,” said Hardwick, who was hospitalized overnight for observation. “I wish I was driving with them, but sadly that won’t be possible.
“When I first learned I wouldn’t be able to drive, Trent was immediately one of the first drivers I thought of to step in. I want the team to continue and our 1st Phorm car to be on track to compete in this event. I’ve followed Trent’s career for the last few years, and I think he’ll be a good fit.”
Hindman joins a No. 16 lineup that includes Patrick Long, Jan Heylen and Klaus Bachler for the Rolex 24. Hardwick and Long finished second in the final 2020 GTD standings and, with Heylen, won the season finale, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
“First and foremost, what’s most important is that Ryan is OK,” said Hindman, 25, who will make his fifth Rolex 24 start. “Filling in for the Rolex 24 under these circumstances is never ideal, but I am grateful to John (Wright), Ryan and the Wright Motorsports team for trusting me with this opportunity. The No. 16 Porsche looks to be a strong contender for victory come Sunday, and I certainly look forward to doing everything I can to make it happen.”
Following the incident, Wright Motorsports withdrew its Pilot Challenge entry from competing in Friday’s BMW Endurance Challenge At Daytona.
No. 3 Corvette Drivers Itching for Return to Rolex 24 Victory Lane
By Holly Cain
With a year under their belt steering the high-profile No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R and earning the 2020 championship trophy for their mantel, Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia showed up in Daytona feeling optimistic that they – along with co-driver Nicky Catsburg – should now be considered favorites to earn Corvette’s first GTLM class Rolex 24 win in five years.
That was in 2016, a thrilling battle between the make’s two team cars. The No. 4 Corvette nipped the No. 3 Corvette by a mere 0.034 seconds, battling door-to-door throughout the twice-around-the-clock season opener. It was an amazing 1-2 finish for the Corvette C7.R and second straight win in the Rolex 24.
Garcia, 40, was driving the No. 3 Corvette that missed the win by a blink of an eye. This year he has great faith in the Corvette C8.R, the mid-engine car starting its second season of competition, to be best in class.
“We just need to focus on our program, what we do and trying to learn the car and I think we should be prepared for Saturday,’’ said Garcia, who has won three of the last four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM titles.
The Garcia/Taylor Corvette won five races in 2020 but notably finished fourth (Rolex 24), fifth (TireRack.com Grand Prix), runner-up (Motul Petit Le Mans) and fifth (Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts) in the endurance races. The team is boldly optimistic in this weekend’s second Rolex 24 try with the C8.R – hoping to put an end to BMW Team RLL’s two-year winning streak.
The No. 4 Corvette, with drivers Tandy and Alexander Sims, won the GTLM pole position with its victory in Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100 in the car they share with Tommy Milner. The No. 3 will start second in class.
“I think we’re definitely going in with some good momentum after last year, winning five races and the championship,’’ said Taylor, who has a pair of DPi and overall wins in the Rolex 24. “Just such a strong showing for the C8.R (last year), so coming back to Daytona and having a year under our belt with this car, a lot of development and winning the sprint race here last year gives us some confidence.
“But I think this year, especially with all the new cars and new classes, it’s definitely going to change the game a bit with how much you will have to be careful and cautious through the night with some new drivers and some new cars. 
“I think at the end of the day it’s the same style of racing where you’re going to have to survive until the end, but I think it’s a little bit extra this year making sure you get to the end of the race with a strong car and a fast car.”
Adam Sinclair