DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By all regards, it’s a new generation, crossover all-star pairing for the Ford teams in next Friday’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Young NASCAR drivers Cole Custer, 19, Austin Cindric, 19, Chase Briscoe, 23 and Ty Majeski, 23 will pair up to compete in ultra-fast Ford Mustang GT4s for Multimatic Motorsports on the afternoon before the Rolex 24 At Daytona green flag drops.
And while some of those NASCAR stars have a bit of road course experience, the opportunity to run in next weekend’s endurance race on the 3.56-mile Daytona road circuit will be both an eye-opener and an adrenalin rush.
Cindric, who finished third in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series last year, is the only one of the four to have notable time competing in road racing. He finished 14th in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class in the 2016 Rolex 24. And in addition to next Friday’s Continental Tire race, he will again race in the twice-around-the-clock Rolex season opener, this year driving in the Prototype class.
For Custer, Briscoe, and Majeski this will be their debut on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile Daytona road course that incorporates both the track’s famous high-banked speedway and it’s technical, infield course.
Not only will the young drivers benefit from road course experience, but the extra time competing together as they head into a season featuring unique and exciting seat plans in the Xfinity Series. While Custer returns to the series in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Cindric, Briscoe, and Majeski will share Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 Ford under the guidance of two-time series champion crew chief Mike Kelley.
The four-hour sports car race will be a good – and competitive get-to-know-you – opportunity for the Roush teammates to learn about each other and for the brand of racing.
“Definitely something totally different from what I’m used to doing and growing up doing,’’ said Briscoe, last year’s Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year. “It’s cool, I’m glad Ford is letting us do it. It’s been nice to be able to come here and be with people I know like Cole, Austin, and Ty.
“I’m excited to come back for the race. It’s cool how many fans come just to watch practice. I’m excited to see what this place is like come race weekend.
“I’ve only run two road course races my entire life so it’s going to be a big challenge. Just trying to figure out where to find some speed at. You feel like you’re getting everything you can out of it and you’re still two seconds off the pace.”
Actually, Briscoe wasn’t too far off the pace at all.
During the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test two weeks ago, drivers and teams turned three days of laps. Cindric and Briscoe were second fastest in the opening session and Custer and Majeski were third.
In four more sessions, the NASCAR pairings were primarily top-ten on the practice chart. Cindric and Briscoe were consistently top-six among the nearly 40 teams that participated.
“Chase and I were teammates [at Brad Keselowski Racing] in trucks, so we have a pretty good working relationship already,” Cindric said. “So for us to share a car is pretty easy. I do have a bit of a senior role if you will, because I have [road racing] experience, but I think we’ll all be fine. He’s gotten right up to speed and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. I honestly think we have a shot at a podium or win.
“It’s more of a program from Ford for Chase and Ty to get them some road race experience. Cole has a lot of road course experience. It’s a fun program to be a part of and super unique to what any other manufacturer is doing, cross-pollinating their development programs which is kind of a new concept.”
While Custer – last year’s Xfinity Series breakout star and winner of the season finale in Homestead, Florida – may have some road course experience, his driving partner Majeski does not. At all.
“Turning right is (the biggest adjustment), something I’ve literally done none of my entire life,’’ Majeski said with a laugh. “Just a whole different set of instincts to get speed out of these cars and I’m learning all I can.
“Only my second time ever on road course and multi-class thing is a lot different. Everything seems different, huge new experience. I’m leaning on Scott Maxwell, my teammate, a lot. It’s been a huge learning experience so far but gone well so far. Looking forward to sinking my teeth in even more.
“It’s just different. ABS brakes, traction control, no spotters, big mirrors, just a whole different world, different experience in general but a lot of fun. You can drive these cars really hard because of all the gadgets on them.”
Not only will Majeski get some tutelage from his co-driver and sports car standout Maxwell, but Custer has also proven himself one of NASCAR’s better road course competitors despite his early experience level.
He has three top-ten finishes in three Camping World Truck Series road course races, including a pole position and a runner-up finish in Canada in 2016. His best road course finish in three Xfinity Series races last year was an eighth place at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“Always good to get out there and feel different characteristics of a road course and I’ve learned a lot from Scott Maxwell,’’ Custer said. “Ford had the idea to get us all more experience. It’s a really great thing them helping us.
“I think every driver wants to run these road course races, especially ones that are prestigious like this.’’