Reigning WEC champion for Toyota, Kobayashi won the last two Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, but when WTR switched to Acura this year, he joined Action Express Racing’s part-time entry, along with Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller.
Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100-minute qualifying race featured only two drivers from each squad set to take part in next weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, and Kobayashi and Johnson were selected to take part. Johnson took the tricky first leg as the track started out wet – with lap times around 12sec off the dry times – and remained in the car even after the Prototype field pitted for dry tires.
By the end of the stint, the 45-year-old Californian was able to set times just 0.5sec slower than leader and AXR teammate in the sister car, Felipe Nasr.
“The Ally Cadillac felt ok,” said Kobayashi who set the race’s fastest lap. “I had a good long run in the car, a full stint to myself. I got positive feedback from the car. Let’s see where we go next week. We have many things to work on like driver changes.
“For this week we are very happy. Jimmie is working very hard. He’s made a big step this week. I think next week he will be even faster.
“I am looking forward to the few days doing more work with Simon [Pagenaud], Mike [Rockenfeller], and the team.”
Johnson himself commented: “I’m very thankful that the team put me in this position to start the race and qualify the Ally Cadillac. It put me in some positions I hadn’t been in before.
“It allowed me to understand the prerace procedures like fuel mapping pages, warming the tires up under caution, keep the carbon brakes hot, and things you mess with in the car. All of that while it is raining.
“To be running in the rain and to understand the tires, the spray from the other cars and then transition to dry with slicks and getting them up to temperature.
“I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but I stayed on the road and had a lot of valuable first-time experiences, which was really helpful.”
Johnson is this year set to compete in 13 road and street course IndyCar races for Chip Ganassi Racing.