This weekend, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires rookie Kyffin Simpson will get his first taste of endurance racing with his run in the prestigious Rolex 24 At Daytona for Gradient Racing in the GT Daytona class.
More importantly, Simpson will cap off an up-and-down week that has tested the Cayman Islands driver’s skill and resolve in ways that he hopes will better his racing talents down the road.
At the Roar Before the 24 last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Simpson went out for practice in the No. 66 Acura NSX GT3 to prepare for the qualifying race. A brief shower brought out the red flag and forced Simpson into the pits.
After the bout with rain, Simpson returned to a course damper than he was expecting and on cold tires. While heading into “The Kink” on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course, Simpson lost control in a wet spot and backed the car into the wall, sending the Gradient Racing team into a frenzy to get the car ready for that afternoon’s qualifying race.
For 17-year-old Simpson, it was a learning moment in his young racing career and something he’s already studied to ensure doesn’t happen again.
“I definitely have gone over the video a couple of times and just learning how this car reacts when it gets wet,” he said. “It’s something that I’m not used to and didn’t expect from such a big, heavy car in the rain.”
In all, it was a minor incident that had few on-track implications. The team fixed the car in time for the 1-hour, 40-minute race. Simpson finished 49th overall in the race that determines his team’s starting spot in the 24-hour race (Broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, live on NBC). Simpson will share driving duties with Mario Farnbacher, Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer.
“It changes a little bit where we would have wanted to be as far as setting up the car and maybe a little bit from the team’s perspective of how they wanted the car prepared,” Simpson said. “Other than that, we’re still going to come into this weekend looking to do as well as we can.”
Simpson is eager to make his sports car racing debut and doesn’t enter a race without the intention to win. While he’s looking for a class victory this Sunday after 24 hours of racing, he’s also hoping this will lead to more victories down the line.
This weekend’s race is the first of four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for Simpson, who is competing for Gradient Racing in the four-race IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, which will see him take part in races at Sebring International Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
He’s taking part in this program as an official Honda Performance Development driver alongside his full-time Indy Lights schedule with TJ Speed Motorsports, which is entering Indy Lights for the first time as a team.
Simpson believes the skills he learns this weekend, such as how to drive with anti-lock brakes and traction control, as well as performing live pit stops and tire management, will benefit him long term as he pursues a career in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“I think it’s going to help a lot for everything,” he said. “It’s teaching me a lot of things you wouldn’t learn through other series. The car is a ton of fun to drive. It’s a lot different than what I’m used to. All the in-car assists that you’re not used to in single seaters – it makes you drive the car completely different.”