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Action Express first, worst in Sebring: Pipo Derani wins pole as Jimmie Johnson crashes

IMSA Sportscar Weekend pole

#31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi, DPi: Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani

LAT Images

Qualifying for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring ended on opposite ends of the spectrum for Action Express and Jimmie Johnson.

With teammate Pipo Derani capturing the pole position with a track record Friday in the No. 31 Cadillac, Johnson wrecked his No. 48 late in the session and was last among the seven DPi cars.

After spinning in Turn 16, Johnson lost control while trying to get up to speed with debris on his tires. Entering the right-hander at Turn 17, the DPi backed into the tire barrier in a heavy impact that knocked the rear wing off the car and scattered suspension parts across the track.

“I’m certainly disappointed that I tore up the car for the team, putting them in a difficult position,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said in a release. “They seem eager and ready for the challenge to get the Ally Cadillac back together for tomorrow. I spun in Turn 16. I was trying to get up and going to catch another flying lap before the session ended. Sadly, I had some debris on my tires as I entered 17 and tagged the outside wall. I learned a couple of lessons there. Call them rookie lessons.”


REUNION: Chad Knaus back to calling strategy for a Jimmie Johnson car at Sebring

Johnson was evaluated and released from the Sebring care center, and the team (which is being staffed by Hendrick Motorsports team members including Chad Knaus) should have the car repaired for the green flag. Because he qualified the car, Johnson would start the race before handing off to teammates Kamui Kobayashi and Simon Pagenaud.

In a video interview tweeted Friday afternoon, Johnson said the team would “play things safe” and go to a spare tub and put all new parts and components on it because of Sebring’s punishing nature. “We’re just going to build a new car,” he said.

Derani said Action Express would be all hands on deck to repair the No. 48, which is making its second of four Michelin Endurance Cup starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series this season. The No. 31 of Derani and Felipe Nasr (who are joined by Mike Conway for the endurance races) is the team’s full-time championship entry.

“It’s fantastic to have them on board,” Derani said of the No. 48. “Jimmie is a true gentleman and a fantastic racer. He’s a legend. To have a guy like him in our team, it’s great. We’ll always do our best to help if they need. They have very capable drivers as well. Despite the cars looking different, we are one team. We race that way. We help each other because for us the most important thing is to be 1-2

“I’m pretty sure the whole team will work together, the 31 to help the 48 or if it was the other way around, to get the car ready. One thing is for sure, we always work as one. When we win, we win as a team, when we lose, we lose as a team. Today we had one car up front to compensate for a lack of luck or difficulties the 48 had in qualifying, but I’m pretty sure with a fantastic team effort, the car would be great for tomorrow’s race.”

It was another sterling effort at Sebring for the Brazilian, a three-time winner of the iconic Twelve Hours who also won a sprint race last July with Nasr.

Derani turned a lap of 1 minute, 45.354 seconds, shattering the previous qualifying mark of 1:46.874 by Ricky Taylor last November.

Taylor qualified second Friday in the No. 10 Acura with a lap of 1:45.464

“It’s fantastic to be back at Sebring, a track I enjoy so much with so much history,” Derani said. “It was tight as expected. To come out on top is great. It confirms we did a perfect job in practice, but we know it’s going to be a tough race. This is just the beginning. Last (November) was difficult for us. We were there fighting. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way. Fantastic to be back. To be here doing what I love is great.”

An IMSA spokesman said the No. 19 Lamborghini was disqualified from its GTD pole position because of a wifi hotspot in the car, a violation of IMSA technical regulations.