AJ Allmendinger Turns Fastest In Early Thursday Rolex 24 Practice Sessions

Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya may have moved to a new home for the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, but 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 to date in preparations for this weekend’s 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona, set to begin on Saturday at 3:40 p.m. ET. Allmendinger, who will be competing fulltime in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, powered around the 3.56-mile 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 chassis 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 joy.

“AJ was quickest there and Juan was good on his running in that last session, so we’ve been making some good progress,” said Cameron, still chasing his first triumph in the Rolex 24. “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 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, a three-time Rolex 24 victor, 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, who won the over Rolex 24 in 2012, 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 I, 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 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 was 0.232 seconds quicker than the No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi on the time sheet. Scott Dixon, in the No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi, was 0.275 seconds back.

Other class leaders through the first two practices 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), Gianmaria Bruni in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19, at 1:42.600
  • In GT Daytona (GTD), Mirko Bortolotti in the No. 111 GRT Grasser Race Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3, at 1:45.690.

A night practice was set to run from 7:15-9 p.m. ET Thursday, with a final one-hour session at 11:20 a.m. Friday. The starting grid was determined 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. That team consists of reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott, who tasted victory on the DAYTONA Road Course last August when NASCAR’s premier series made its debut on the twists and turns. Other drivers for the team are Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Pipo Derani.

Live coverage of the Rolex 24 is on NBC and carries overnight on other NBC Sports platforms including NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App. Flag-to-flag IMSA Radio coverage is also available on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com.

Fans have the opportunity to witness the event in person as two-day admissions to the storied, twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 are just $68 with kids 12 and under free. Guests will safely experience a host of sights and sounds that include a fireworks show, the Ferris Wheel at the Boardwalk, entry into the infield UNOH Fanzone, and a host of fun exhibits and displays. To learn more on the Rolex 24 and opportunities to witness the race in person, call 1-800-PITSTOP or log onto www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Rolex 24 will be conducted in accordance with enhanced safety protocols and procedures to provide a safe environment for guests, IMSA competitors, employees and the local community. All guests will be screened before entering the facility and will be required to wear face coverings while maintaining six feet social distancing throughout their visit.

For a schedule of on-track activities and protocols, logo onto www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the latest speedway news.

About Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a state-of-the-art motorsports facility and was awarded the SportsBusiness Journal’s prestigious Sports Business Award for Sports Facility of the Year in 2016. Daytona International Speedway is the home of The Great American Race – the DAYTONA 500. Though the season-opening NASCAR Cup Series event garners most of the attention – as well as the largest audience in motorsports – the approximately 500-acre motorsports complex, also known as the World Center of Racing, boasts the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe. In addition to at least nine major event weekends, the Speedway grounds are also used extensively for events that include concerts, civic and social gatherings, car shows, photo shoots, production vehicle testing and police motorcycle training.