DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2014) – It was an instant classic for the debut of a new chapter in North American motorsports.
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup debuted with a record crowd and a thrilling finish in the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona, won by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.
A late incident set up a 10-minute sprint to the checkered flag, with a potential ‘feel good’ story in the making. Two-time Rolex 24 winner Wayne Taylor – out of retirement for a final opportunity to co-drive with sons Ricky and Jordan – could only watch as Max Angelelli prepared to unleash “the Ax” in a dash to the finish.
But Barbosa was not to be denied, coming home with his second overall victory at Daytona in five years for Action Express by a 1.461-second margin of victory. He won his third Rolex Daytona Cosmograph (he also won in class in 2003), while Fittipaldi took his second (overall in 2004) and Bourdais – a four-time Champ Car World Series champion – won the event for the first time.
The race was marred in the early going by a horrific crash when Memo Gidley – driving the pole-winning No. 99 GAINSCO Corvette DP – rear-ended the disabled No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Matteo Malucelli. Both drivers were taken to nearby Halifax Hospital, where they are undergoing treatment. The race was red-flagged for 55:45 minutes after the incident.
The race featured 52 lead changes, with the winning Action Express team leading 18 times for 313 laps, and the Wayne Taylor Racing team 12 times for 228 laps. The winning team completed 695 laps on the 3.56-mile circuit, covering 2,474.2 miles for the team owned by Daytona Beach businessman Bob Johnson.
“Bob was convincingly, absolutely dead sure we were going to win it,” Bourdais said. “He was right. The guys were prepared. Everybody knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and the execution was perfect. What can I say? It’s a dream come true.”
The Taylors’ dream was dashed by Barbosa’s great jump on the restart with four laps remaining.
“I tried everything to find a good balance, a good run,” Angelelli said. “But I didn’t have enough for him. I thought I had (enough) when I picked up the car for the final two stints. But the final rush, unfortunately not.”
While the new Corvette C7.R that raced in the GT Le Mans class and its street counterpart – the Z06 – opened the event with plenty of fanfare, the Corvette DP flexed considerable muscle of its own by sweeping the top four positions.
Brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle joined John Martin and Fabien Giroix in the third-place No. 9 Action Express Corvette DP, followed by Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiante and Mike Rockenfeller No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. Two-time ALMS P1 champions Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr led the LMP2-based Prototypes by finishing fifth with Alex Brundle in the No. 6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Nissan/ORECA.
Three months after setting the all-time speed record on the 2.5-mile Daytona tri-oval, Colin Braun took his first Rolex 24 victory in Prototype Challenge. Braun swept to a one-lap triumph in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 with Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and James Gue.
“We worked really, really hard to come up with a plan that we wanted to stick with,” Braun said. “We came prepared this weekend and executed our plan, down to being fastest in the opening two practice sessions, winning the pole and I think we led the most laps.”
Enzo Potolicchio, Tom Kimber-Smith, Mike Marsal and Rob Huff took second in the No. 25 8Star Motorsports entry, followed by Ryan Booth, Raphael Matos, Tomy Drissi, Gabriel Casagrande and Julio Campos in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
Porsche North America won in GT Le Mans (GTLM) in the debut of the factory team run in conjunction with CORE autosport. Patrick Pilet beat BMW Team RLL’s Joey Hand to the checkered flag by 2.838 seconds in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, coming back after briefly falling behind Hand’s No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE with two laps remaining.
Richard Lietz took his second Rolex 24 GT victory, having won in a Magnus Racing Porsche in 2012. He won joined by first-time winners Pilet and Nick Tandy. It was Porsche’s 76th class victory in the history of the Rolex 24, and the 40th triumph for a 911-based Porsche.
SRT Motorsports started on the GTLM pole with Marc Goossens in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R. Action through the bulk of the event featured the two Porsche North America entries taking on first the two Vipers, then a pair of Corvette Racing C7.Rs. Attrition took its toll, as the second Porsche 911 RSR (the No. 912 of Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister and Michael Christensen) dropped from contention. Meanwhile, the two Team RLL BMWs worked their way back from two laps down.
“When I jumped in the car, I had a two-lap lead,” Pilet said. “I thought I could cruise to the finish. But the BMW came back, and it was really close. There was a lot of traffic in front of me, and I had to take a lot of risk in the closing laps. I tried to do my best and it worked – fantastic! This is a brand-new team, a new car and a new championship. It was a lot of hard work. There was no Merry Christmas or Happy New Year for many people. Tough, but we got the best result we can expect.”
With time running out, Hand made his move to the outside of Pilet on the superspeedway tri-oval. The two went three-wide approaching turn one as they passed a slower car. Hand briefly nosed ahead, but Pilet had the better line approaching Turn 1 and was able to regain control.
“Who would have believed, after we were down by two laps that the GTLM race would come down to the last lap?” said Hand, a regular for BMW in the DTM series. “We didn’t have a lot left in the car, but I went for it. I just tried to be better in traffic. I had a good run going, but I got pinched up high trying to get by a Ferrari, and that stopped my roll and allowed the Porsche to get away. We had a car that went all the way – and that was our plan all the way. This was a great start for the team for the championship.”
Co-driving with Hand were Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx and Maxime Martin. Third went to the No. 91 Viper of Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
GT Daytona (GTD) was even closer. Alessandro Pier Guidi, driving the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia, raced side-by-side with No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS driver Markus Winkelhock. The pair battled closely through the closing laps. Pier Guidi was 1.293 seconds ahead at the checkered flag, but was immediately penalized for his aggressive driving and the race initially was awarded to Flying Lizard Motorsports. Upon further review by IMSA Supervisory Officials, the decision was reversed and Level 5 Motorsports was declared the winning team.
“It’s bittersweet not to be part of the podium, but we are pleased that IMSA took a second look at the decision,” said Bill Sweedler, who joined Scott Tucker, Jeff Segal, Townsend Bell and Guidi on the winning lineup. “The fact is that IMSA took time to right a wrong and now the winning team is now declared the winner. That’s what matters.”
It was Ferrari’s first Rolex 24 triumph since Gianpiero Moretti’s MOMO Ferrari 333SP winning overall in 1998. Tucker had finished third overall in the 2010 Rolex 24, joined by Hunter-Reay and Lucas Luhr. On Friday, he scored his 100th career professional victory at Daytona in the first of two Ferrari Challenge races.
“It was an exciting last two laps,” Guidi said. “After 24 hours, we were so tired. But we didn’t give up.”
Winkelhock was joined by Nelson Canache Jr., Spencer Pumpelly and Tim Pappas in the second-place finishing Flying Lizard Audi.
“It was an incredible last lap, and really tough racing,” said Winkelhock, who ran out of fuel on the final lap last year while battling for the lead. I left him (Guidi) plenty of space (in the chicane) but he tried to put me in the grass and I went off.”
Madison Snow, Jan Heylen and Marco Seefried finished third in the No. 58 Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America, with 29 of the 67 total entries in the Rolex 24 running in the GTD class.
In addition to the overall victory, Action Express Racing grabbed the early lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Leading the final two of four segments allowed Action Express to tally 17 points. Wayne Taylor Racing is two points back, with 15.
Ford and Chevrolet are tied for the lead the Tequila Patrón Endurance Cup Prototype Manufacturers standings with 13 points. CORE Autosport took over the lead in Prototype Challenge (PC), scoring 14 points to break a tie and forge a two-point lead over 8Star Motorsports.
The Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup will also include the Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda.