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Nunez: Action Express Drive a “Huge Step” in Career

Tristan Nunez on return to DPi competition as Felipe Nasr’s replacement at Action Express Racing…

Photo: John Dagys

Tristan Nunez believes his return to the DPi class with Action Express Racing comes as a “huge step” in his career, in being drafted into the defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship-winning organization.

The ex-Mazda factory driver has joined the No. 31 Whelen Engineering-sponsored Cadillac DPi-V.R entry, replacing the departed Felipe Nasr in the lineup alongside 2021 DPi champion Pipo Derani.

For Nunez, who spent last year in the LMP2 ranks in a WIN Autosport LMP2 entry, the opportunity to return to the DPi class came as a bit of a surprise after getting a call from AXR team manager Gary Nelson last summer.

Nasr had signed with Porsche Penske Motorsport prior to winning the 2021 title, leaving an open seat in one of the most sought-after teams.

“Honestly I didn’t even think to reach out because I didn’t know [Nasr] was leaving,” Nunez told Sportscar365.

“I was sitting at lunch one day in San Fransisco — because I spent the summer there — and got a call from Gary Nelson. 

“It was a North Carolina number. I didn’t know if it was spam or someone important, so I figured I’d answer it. He asked me what my plans were for 2022 and I said, ‘Whatever it is, I’m free!’

“It all came together pretty quickly after that. It was a hard secret to keep but I wanted to respect their timing and everything.”

Nunez credits both his tenure at Mazda as well as last year’s run in LMP2 for putting him in this position.

It included a seven-year stint in the prototype ranks with the Japanese manufacturer that came to an end in 2020 when Mazda scaled back to a single-car DPi program for its final year in the class.

“I’m grateful for everything Mazda did for me in my whole career,” Nunez said.

“They gave me a start when I was a 17-year-old kid. I really feel that’s groomed me into the driver that I am today, to be able to capitalize on this opportunity. 

“[The LMP2 ride] was definitely [also] extremely valuable. I’m super grateful for Steven Thomas for giving me a chance.

“That was a deal that came together last-minute, trying to scrape together something when [Mazda] went down to one car. 

“It was great keeping my name out there. He did a great job all season and made my job a lot easier. Getting that win at Watkins Glen definitely helped solidify that I was still out there.

“I think that helped in the long run.

“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I think everything played out the way it was supposed to play out.”

Nunez has characterized it as a “dream come true” opportunity to jump into the championship-winning team in what he’s hopeful will turn into a long-term drive.

While currently on a single-year contract with the team, Nunez said he’s hopeful it can expand into the LMDh era when Action Express becomes one of two teams to campaign the Cadillac LMDh-V.R in the WeatherTech Championship.

“Action Express and the Cadillacs have been the ones we’ve been chasing pretty much my whole career,” he said. 

“They had been there even when I started in Grand-Am when I was in the Mazda6. 

“It’s a huge pleasure to be with such a grounded organization and I think it’s going to be a huge step in my career moving forward and a big opportunity being in the championship-winning car.

“Pipo has lots of experience. I’m looking to learn a lot this year but also go for the championship.”

Nunez said he doesn’t feel like there’s any added pressure heading into the 2022 season as the team looks to defend its title.

“That’s the good thing about this team,” he said. “There’s a very big family mindset to it and they really look out for the drivers. They realize if we’re comfortable and not under excessive pressure we’re going to perform the best.

“Obviously there’s expectation but that’s just being a race car driver. There’s expectation in any car you get in.

“I really feel excited to be in a new car, especially the Cadillac. It’s a beast.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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