Lopez replaces Johnson in AXR's Ally Cadillac for IMSA Sebring 12 Hours

Action Express Racing has hired Jose Maria Lopez to sub for Jimmie Johnson in the Sebring 12Hrs, as the NASCAR legend will be in Texas making his IndyCar oval debut.

#48 Action Express Cadillac DPi: Mike Rockenfeller, Kamui Kobayashi, Jimmie Johnson, Jose Maria Lopez

Lopez, who was fourth driver in AXR’s #48 Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Daytona 24 Hours, will join Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller for the IMSA Sports Car Championship’s 12-hour classic, which the team won in 2015 and 2019.

With the race held on 19 March, some hoped it would be possible for an IndyCar driver to compete in Sebring before heading to Texas Motor Speedway for the second IndyCar round on 20 March.

But with IndyCar holding qualifying on the Saturday, those who missed the session would be consigned to the back of the field. Given the difficulty of passing on the 1.5-mile TMS, no one is taking this option.

Autosport confirmed with Meyer Shank Racing yesterday that Helio Castroneves, nominally its third man for IMSA endurance races, would be focused on his IndyCar commitments, so MSR is currently seeking a replacement to join Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist in the Daytona 24-winning Acura ARX-05.

Meanwhile Lopez is naturally enthusiastic about rejoining AXR for Sebring. He said: “It was great to be a part of the Ally Cadillac team at Daytona 24. I was very proud of the team effort and how Jimmie, Mike, and Kamui drove in the race.

"Things just didn’t go our way. We had good pace.

“It was my first experience at Daytona and racing in America. It was much better than what I expected. I was happy with my performance in the car.

“This is a plus. I was planning to be in Sebring anyway. Unfortunately Jimmie isn’t able to do both IndyCar and IMSA at the same time.

#48 Action Express Cadillac DPi: Mike Rockenfeller, Kamui Kobayashi, Jimmie Johnson, Jose Maria Lopez

#48 Action Express Cadillac DPi: Mike Rockenfeller, Kamui Kobayashi, Jimmie Johnson, Jose Maria Lopez

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

"I will be there for the first WEC race [of the season]. We race on Friday with Toyota and then I will cross the garage and race on Saturday in the Ally Cadillac.

“I am really thankful for the opportunity to drive again with Action Express Racing and hopefully me, Mike and Kamui can deliver a good result.”

AXR’s team director Gary Nelson commented: “We have had this contingency plan in place since IndyCar announced their schedule and we saw that there would be conflict with their Texas event.

"It was really an easy decision to bring in José María. He ran with us at Daytona, did all the testing leading up to the Rolex, so slotting him in was a no-brainer.

“He and Kamui are running the WEC race as well. But they are fit, and I think the extra laps at Sebring can only help us come race day for our Ally Cadillac effort in the 12-hour race.

“We will miss Jimmie and wish him all the best in Texas.”

Johnson himself commented: “I was really looking forward to going back and racing the Ally Cadillac at Sebring. We had a great run there last season and were in contention for the win for most of the race.

“José Maria is an excellent driver and he will do great. I know the team’s experienced and they can get the Ally Cadillac up on the podium – hopefully the top step.”

Johnson’s oval race debut will come on the track where he first completed his oval rookie test with Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda last year.

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