Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson said they’ve opted for a three-driver lineup in the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R at the Rolex 24 at Daytona for simplicity reasons after previously running the race with with a four-man roster.
The defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship-winning DPi squad will run with its revised full-season pairing of Pipo Derani and Tristan Nunez alongside Toyota Gazoo Racing Hypercar driver on-loan Mike Conway.
It is the only three-driver lineup in the DPi class for this year’s race and marks the first time the No. 31 crew has done so since 2019.
Last year, the Whelen Engineering-sponsored squad drafted in NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott into the squad as a fourth driver, although Nelson noted difficulties in achieving a similar effort this time around.
“Talking to our guys, the Le Mans rule doesn’t allow four drivers and they [also] run 24 hours,” Nelson told Sportscar365.
“We’ve had it both ways [at the Rolex 24]. We’ve had three drivers and we’ve won it and we’ve won it with four drivers. To me, the simpler we can make it, the better.
“So we just went with Mike Conway, who’s a Le Mans winner; he knows the routine. Pipo, who is a Daytona 24-hour winner, and Tristan, who’s a top guy.
“We figured, ‘well, heck, let’s just give it a shot.'”
Nelson said utilizing a NASCAR Cup Series driver again in its roster was not feasible due to scheduling reasons this year.
“A lot of them would have liked to do it, including Chase,” he said.
“But the problem with the NASCAR guys this year, they couldn’t put in the time just before the [LA] Colosseum race comes up [on Feb. 6].
“They could show up for the race but that’s not really a recipe to win. You need to do the December test, then the whole Roar, the simulator work and come back for the race.
“We didn’t see that in any NASCAR drivers. They couldn’t balance that schedule.”
Nunez, who joins Action Express as Felipe Nasr’s replacement, said he isn’t concerned about running the race as a trio.
The 26-year-old former Mazda factory driver contested the Rolex 24 in 2020 as a three-driver lineup, giving the Mazda DPi program its best-ever race result with a runner-up finish alongside co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Olivier Pla.
The only difference this year comes with a bumper 61-car field, which could add to driver fatigue when dealing with traffic.
“These guys have been working out a lot,” Nunez said. “I think we’ll all be able to do long enough stints that will give enough break time in between stints.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot of work. I’ve been training hard to make sure that I’m ready for it.
“I’m not too concerned. The car is really comfortable inside. It’s got a lot of room compared to other cars I’ve driven. It’s a clean cockpit. I don’t think it will be easy but [it will be] more comfortable than in the past.”
Nelson: Bad Luck Hopefully Behind No. 31 Cadillac in Rolex 24
While having claimed three Rolex 24 victories — its most recent in 2018 with its then No. 5 Cadillac DPi effort — Nelson says he hopes the bad luck is behind the No. 31 car, which has been plagued with mechanical woes in recent years in the race.
“Last year we broke a gearbox and when we tore it down it turned out to be a bad decision I made six months before that bid us in the [Rolex] 24,” Nelson admitted.
“The year before they were both gearbox-related.
“At Action Express, I think we follow the model, as pretty much [all] good teams that when something goes wrong you fix it. Usually it stays fixed. Then you wait for the next thing that you’ve never had happen before.
“Hopefully we’ve got all those things behind us. We’re proud of our endurance record.
“We went a couple of years and finished every lap of every race. In two years’ time there was only one lap we didn’t finish.
“Having the troubles we’ve had the last couple of years with the 31 [car] makes me think, ‘That was a freak deal. That was a bad decision I made.’
“Hopefully we have the freak deals behind us.”