Memo Gidley will make his return to the wheel of a prototype at Daytona International Speedway this weekend, eight years after his serious accident in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The 51-year-old Californian will drive the No. 23 AL Autosport with JDC Motorsports Duqueine D08 Nissan LMP3 car with Alexander Koreiba in Saturday’s IMSA Prototype Challenge season opener as part of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend.
It will be Gidley’s first race at Daytona since the frightening crash when he sustained a spinal fracture and injuries to his left arm and leg.
Nine surgeries and years of rehab later, Gidley still suffers pain from lingering nerve damage but it hasn’t deterred him from getting back into a race car.
The opportunity came about thanks to a chat he had with old racing chum Chris Wheeler at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last summer. When Wheeler had a sudden need for an experienced driver, he dialed up Gidley.
“Chris said, ‘Listen, I’m managing this AL Autosport LMP3 program and one of our drivers can’t get approved for a license. So, we’re looking for someone who has a license.’ And I was like, ‘I’ve got a license!'” Gidley recalled.
“So here we are.”
A total of 20 LMP3 cars are on the entry list for Saturday’s three-hour race.
Although this marks his debut with AL with JDC, Gidley is no stranger to LMP3 cars nor to the twists, turns and high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s neat. In 2018, I raced LMP3s in the Prototype Challenge with FMO Racing,” he said. “Getting back into a prototype at that point was great.
“The LMP3 formula is awesome. The bang for the buck, you just can’t beat it in a GT3 or even a GT4 car.
“I enjoyed it, I have some experience in these cars and getting back to Daytona is awesome.
“I love the track and just the whole atmosphere. And Jim France is one of my heroes just because of who he is and what he’s put together, so I’m just excited to get back there again this week.”
There’s a mixture of experience and inexperience on hand at AL Autosport this week.
While Gidley has plenty of LMP3 seat time and oodles of laps around Daytona on his resume, there will be precious little time to get acquainted with his new team and surroundings.
What’s more, co-driver Koreiba has never turned a wheel at Daytona.
“We’ve talked on the phone but never met, but Alex is a nice, aspiring driver, working hard to get his way into racing,” Gidley said.
“He’s never been to Daytona, so we’ll be dealing with a bunch of stuff. The most track time we have is the three-hour race on Saturday. Otherwise, we have two 45-minute practices and qualifying on Friday.
“And the schedule dictates that we won’t be able to get set up at the track until 1 p.m. on Thursday, so a half day Thursday and then straight into Friday. It’ll go really quick.
“I’m watching the weather and there’s a chance of rain on those days. It would be nice if was just nice and sunny just to keep one variable a little bit consistent.”
Gidley said he’s looking forward to renewing acquaintances throughout the paddock with the multitude of drivers, mechanics and team owners he counts as friends.
If additional opportunities to put that IMSA competition license to good use result, all the better. But for now, he plans to maximize the present moment. As usual.
“My focus is doing a good job for AL Autosport in the three-hour race and helping them do what they want to do,” he says. “Beyond this weekend, my plans for the season are kind of up in the air.
“It’s like I do all the time. I just like getting out to the track. Being out there when I’m driving my kart or anything else, that experience is good.
“You never know what’s around the corner, but I’m always ready to go, have some fun and get some results.”
Saturday’s three-hour race streams live on Peacock starting at noon ET.