The softly spoken 35-year-old Californian, a former rising star in open-wheel racing, has become renowned as one of the world’s finest sportscar racers. After falling from the ladder to IndyCar, despite winning the Star Mazda crown in 2007, he became something of a sportscar racing nomad.
Photo by: David Yowe
#31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud
“It feels like coming home, for sure,” reckons Cameron. “Doing WEC was something that I really wanted to try, especially to do it with Porsche and Penske in the overall category – that was really a personal goal of mine.
“That said, it’s nice to be back in IMSA, somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time and had a good bit of success. It’s a bit of a change, but it’s a great calendar with lots of classic American race tracks, so I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.”
So why the switch?
“Ultimately the team decides who goes where and does what, but I put my hand up for WEC, to give it a shot,” he replies. “It was an opportunity that doesn’t come around a lot in motor racing, and I enjoyed the experience of doing it.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt
Cameron first joined Penske in 2018 and won his second IMSA title with Montoya in 2019 when it ran Acura’s DPi programme
“What was disappointing about it was to miss out on a couple of podiums here and there, because we were close at Spa and Monza. At the end they said ‘maybe come back here’ – so it’s fine. They place us where they think it’s the best fit. I’m happy that I got to do it with this group, just like I’m happy to be back here now.”
Cameron claims he’s benefited from the experience of racing in the global series and is ready to reacclimatise to American prototype competition.
“It’s a different format and a different style,” he admits. “There’s things that I’ve learned [in WEC]; I’m better for it as a driver, that’s for sure. And it also checked off a lot of tracks from my list, so that’s nice to have in my pocket as well. Things are naturally a little different between the two groups that are running the cars, so I can lean into that. I think it’s good to have both perspectives.”
He’s frank about the struggles the team encountered last year, but is encouraged by the progress made, which included three races wins on the IMSA side, although he didn’t get to taste any success personally.
“I think it’s fair to say that the two [types of cars] were more different than people expected, I believe that will continue to improve on the WEC side” Dane Cameron
“It definitely was a big learning curve,” reflects Cameron. “To build the structure of both [WEC and IMSA] teams and how to run a race weekend, divvying up things, I think there were some growing pains at the start of the year, but we really made some good strides.
“I think the team is set up in a much better place. Hopefully that can give us another step forwards now that the dust has settled. The cars are running much more like normal now, far fewer stoppages, and it’s feeling like a normal race team again – that’s a great step.”
One aspect he won’t have to worry about this year is the performance balancing act between Le Mans Hypercars and LMDh racers that WEC must deal with. It will be a straight fight between all-LMDh machinery from Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche and, for most of the longer-distance races, Lamborghini.
“By the way the results went, it was clear that it was difficult if you were in the other [LMDh] category,” says Cameron, once reminded that in IMSA there’s no restriction on voicing an opinion about BoP. “Having a year’s worth of information, I hope things can go easier on that side this year.
Photo by: Eric Le Galliot
Cameron feels like he has ‘come home’ after two years racing in WEC, and relishing the absence of LMH-LMDh politicking
“It seems, from the distance I was at, that it went pretty well in IMSA. I think the sanctioning bodies always feel happier after having the cars on track for a year and they can have more confidence in that type of thing.
“But it’s just simpler if you don’t have the two different categories. I think it’s fair to say that the two [types of cars] were more different than people expected, I believe that will continue to improve on the WEC side. On the IMSA side, it all seemed very calm – like it did at the end of DPi. Just small adjustments.
“As you learn the car, and slight differences emerge, I think that’s OK. If you’re constantly trying to micro-manage those little differences, then you can get out of synch.
“In DPi, you just knew one car would be strong here, and another would be strong there. You’d go about your weekend, and if the track didn’t favour you, you’d go about getting all the points you could. If it favoured you, you’d do everything to win to benefit from your package.”
Cameron teams up with Nasr for 2024, and the pairing has some history together.
“He was my replacement!” laughs Cameron. “When I came to Penske the first time, he took the [Action Express] seat that I vacated. We first drove together in Penske’s P2 car and we spent a lot of time together through the 963’s development phase and we get on really, really well. Looking forward to having him through this season, because he was always one of the biggest pain in the asses to race against when we were in different cars! We have good respect for each other.”
He’ll be pleased to hear that the feeling is mutual from Nasr’s side, too…
“It’s great to have Dane back,” enthuses the Brazilian, who got 39 F1 starts under his belt with Sauber. “A great guy to have in the team, super-easy to work with. He has a lot of experience in IMSA and knows all the tracks pretty well.
Photo by: Marc Fleury
Cameron and Felipe Nasr raced together at Le Mans in 2022 when both were part of Penske’s LMP2 effort to gear up for its WEC entry
“I’m pretty sure we can work well together and be fighting for the championship. With the team running in two championships, the information flow is always quicker, so having Dane coming across from WEC, we’re going to be in contention right away.”
Nasr is also honest about what the 963 lacked compared to its IMSA rivals last year.
“We scratched our heads at some times, and at others we’d roll out of the truck and it was great!” he recalls. “With our car, due to reliability problems, we only really started our season at halfway. Then the podiums came, and the win at Road America was really cool. At times, though, we felt completely lost. We were out of the window with the car, we didn’t know how to operate to get into it, but then it felt like we got closer and closer since halfway.
“He was always one of the biggest pain in the asses to race against when we were in different cars! We have good respect for each other” Dane Cameron on Felipe Nasr
“It’s been quite a year for the project – new car, new team, new regulations – and we have so much more experience under our belts now after many ups and downs. We’re better in every way, certainly in terms of how to optimise our car.”
The season starts with America’s biggest sportscar race – it’s one that Nasr has won in GTD with Porsche, but victory has always eluded Cameron at the Daytona 24 Hours.
“We feel well prepared,” declares Nasr. “Constant running is the only way you can really optimise everything for this race. You have to understand the tyre warm-up, degradation and the balance shift between stints, especially if you’re double-stinting the tyres, or changing left-sides or right-sides only. All of that is so valuable, which is what we focused on in testing.
“It’s kind of a locked homologation – it puts much more focus on your systems, your electronics, set-up philosophies – so we have to run through all of this now, because when we hit the race weekends, there’s not so much time to try things. If we can get it right now, so the car is operating inside the window of where we want to run, it makes our lives easier as drivers. Then it’s just a case of being consistent and staying on top of everything.”
Make no mistake, after a first season that missed the target of ‘Penske perfection with German efficiency’ – especially in the longer races – the expectation level here is amped for 2024.
Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images
Can Cameron’s IMSA comeback spell a third top class title for both he and Nasr?
Indy 500 winner Newgarden adds star appeal
“That was tough,” he admits. “It’s a phenomenal track, one of my new favourites in North America, I loved how old-school it is. It’s very punishing, there’s no rest, you can’t take it easy. It was intense, the traffic was non-stop because of the size of the track and the field size.”
After his in-at-the-deep-end experience, Newgarden has had far more seat time available as he joins Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell in the #7 963 this week at Daytona. Speaking to Autosport during testing, he adds: “It’s been a good learning experience, to get the cadence and the processes down before we come back for the real thing. For me, stepping into the programme to do my part, do a great job to help them, I’m really encouraged. Winning Daytona would be a big deal for everybody, winning any of the endurance events – including Sebring or Petit. I’m excited and honoured to be a part of it.”
Newgarden also points out that Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course poses a totally different challenge to the majestic swoops of Road Atlanta.
“It’s a fun track, but it’s not super-complex when you look at the layout,” he points out. “There’s a lot of straightaway but it’s really thrilling because it’s super-high speed in a lot of respects. The infield is slow, but the Bus Stop stands out as one of those make-or-break corners, the way you deal with traffic exiting that in the race will be so important.
“It’s a fun change-up for me because it’s different to wherever we go in IndyCar. The challenge of being successful over 24 hours is something I’m not used to, so I’d love to succeed at that.”
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Newgarden enjoyed his first experience of Daytona last year in LMP2 and is back for more this year