Jeff Gordon returned to the Daytona high banks on Tuesday, but at the wheel of a Cadillac DPi-V.R, in preparation for next month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where he will make his first sports car racing start in a decade.
The four-time NASCAR Premier Series champion, and FOX NASCAR analyst was confirmed earlier this month as part of Wayne Taylor Racing’s lineup for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener.
“That was a lot of fun,” Gordon said after his initial run this afternoon. “To be able to drive a car that has that kind of downforce, the braking, the cornering… It’s just an amazing piece of machinery.
“I’m so thrilled I’m here and I’m glad we finally got some laps in. It didn’t disappoint.”
Gordon turned less than a dozen laps in the Dallara-built DPi, one of five new-generation prototypes making its public debuts in this week’s IMSA-sanctioned test at Daytona International Speedway.
It came after a troubled morning for all three Cadillacs, which battled electrical issues tied to a software update from Cosworth, although Gordon had previous seat time in the car during a private test at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month.
“Every lap I’ve made in the car has been helpful,” he said. “The time I spent in the simulator in Indianapolis at Dallara, that was big.
“Of course, definitely getting familiar with the seat and the steering wheel and how the car reacts…
“I anticipated being a little bit more comfortable here because I’ve run here before.”
The newly retired NASCAR star’s one and only previous sports car start came at Daytona in 2007, at the wheel of a Riley-Pontiac DP, also fielded by WTR, finishing third overall.
“I remember being pretty impressed with the way it drove then because I was comparing it to Cup car on the road course,” he said.
“Of course I did drive that F1 car that one time and that was pretty amazing. This, to me, is getting much closer to that.
“The braking is definitely far greater. But I wish I could remember what I was doing through the dog-leg [in the DP] because that’s where you really find where this car is at.
“It’s a medium speed but very fast left-hander that really tests the limits of your body in a car.
“I don’t really remember what I did in it before but I know what I’m doing in it now and it’s impressive!”
Gordon will team with Ricky and Jordan Taylor, plus Max Angelelli, whom he co-drove with ten years ago, in the Konica Minolta-backed Cadillac, which will make its competition debut next month.
While having tasted the success of a podium finish at the Rolex 24, Gordon says overall victory, which has alluded the team since 2005, would be a significant achievement for him personally.
“At this point in my life and career, it would be huge,” he said. “When I came here in ’07, I was kind of along for the ride and enjoying every moment of it.
“We had a few issues along the way and finished third. I thought it was pretty cool to be on the podium.
“I think when you really realize how important this race is when you’re here on race day and see the hype and buildup and the challenges you face here in 24 hours to compete at that level against your competitors.
“That’s what makes this race, to me, so thrilling.
“I’d be very, very proud of that and that’s why I’ve been working so hard. I want to give these guys everything.
“That’s what I told Wayne [Taylor, team owner] years ago. I said, ‘I’m not going to come back and run the Rolex 24 unless I can put in the amount of time and effort in the car and physically be in good enough shape and spend time with the team and really be a fixture and a part of it.”
While having retired from full-time NASCAR competition last year, Gordon is hoping to potentially check off some other key races on his bucket list in the future, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“It’s definitely on my mind,” he said. “I like seeing opportunities, and when the right one comes along, taking advantage of it and enjoying it.
“I’m so glad that Wayne and I have kept in touch over the years to be able to do this, especially with Cadillac and Dallara bringing this new car.
“What comes out of this, we’ll just have to see how this goes. I’m always interested in things like [Le Mans], that challenge me that I’ve never done before.
“But I’m also going to talk to Ricky, Jordan and Wayne and get their opinion on what’s the challenges [at Le Mans] versus what this challenge is.”
The 45-year-old stressed that he’s not ready to hang up the helmet altogether.
“I think people misused the word retirement,” he said. “When I stepped out of the car, I’m anything but retired. I’m just not running full-time Cup anymore.
“Of course what happened with [Dale Earnhardt] Jr. this year was something that I didn’t plan on doing but this is something I hoped I would be doing.
“I think I kind of alluded to that and mentioned that but I don’t think anybody took me serious. They thought I was retiring and I’m working harder this year than I think I’ve ever worked.”