Barbosa, Bourdais, Fittipaldi and Frisselle win Rolex 24
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron 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 â€“ out of retirement for a final opportunity to co-drive with sons Ricky and Jordan â€“ 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 â€“ a four-time Champ Car World Series champion â€“ won the event for the first time.
The race was marred in the early going by a horrific crash when Memo Gidley â€“ driving the pole-winning No. 99 GAINSCO Corvette DP â€“ 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 Barbosaâ€™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 didnâ€™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 â€“ the Z06 â€“ 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.
In addition to the victory, Action Express Racing unofficially grabbed the early lead in the Tequila PatrÂ˘n North American Endurance Cup. Leading the final two of four segments allowed Action Express to tally 17 points, matching the total of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Wayne Taylor Racing is one point back, with 11.
Ford and Chevrolet are tied for the lead the Tequila PatrÂ˘n 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.
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 Porscheâ€™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 â€“ 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 moved 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 didnâ€™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 â€“ 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.
"Itâ€™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. Thatâ€™s what matters."
"It was an exciting last two laps," Guidi said. "After 24 hours, we were so tired. But we didnâ€™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.
Winning Team Interview
THE MODERATOR: We have our 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona champions, the opening round of the United SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP, Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais are the drivers, owner is Bob Johnson. Bob, let's get your thoughts to start off as a local guy and getting another win here in this race, the second win here for you.
BOB JOHNSON: Well, my first comment would be to congratulate the Wayne Taylor Racing group. If we didn't have competitors like the 10 car guys, this wouldn't be nearly as much fun. Those guys are awesome. They give us a run for the money at every event. So congratulations to them. They really ran a good race today.
The first event in 2010 that happened to turn into a win was a â€‘â€‘ I was probably the one that expected that the least of anybody, but this one wasn't unexpected. This one we expected to win.
Our guys have all worked extremely hard to get the win, and these guys did an awesome job, as you all witnessed. So I'm just proud as can be that all that hard work paid off.
THE MODERATOR: Let's hear from the drivers now. Christian, this is your second Rolex 24 victory, first since 2004. You kind of returned to fullâ€‘time action here the last year or so with Action Express Racing. Sum up what that's been like, getting back to winning here again at the Rolex 24.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I just hope it doesn't take me another 10 years to win again. No, it's been awesome. Action, Joao, myself, Chevy, we had a great run last year, actually things Joao did when both of us were together in the car, and I think it made maybe the 9 car stronger and it made the 5 car a lot stronger.
I have to admit that the way things were going last year, I thought that we had a chance at the championship, although we only started driving together on race 4. But it didn't go our way, and this race definitely went our way.
I think preparation for this race didn't start two, three months ago, it started one year ago when we left this place, and we knew exactly what were our strong points and what were our failures or maybe like weak points and where we had to improve to make the whole organization a lot stronger.
I'm very happy for Action. I'm really happy for Chevy. Joao did an okay job. No, Joao drove like really, really perfectly the last couple of laps, Sebastien, also, Joao did very quick with us, and I guess the three of us, it worked pretty okay. We'll see what can happen in Sebring, but I'm definitely looking forward to the next race, also.
THE MODERATOR: This is the first Rolex 24 victory for Sebastien. He's obviously a fourâ€‘time Champ Car World Series champion. Sebastien, can you put into words what it means to you to win the Rolex 24?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, you know, it's one of these big races that you just want to put on your resume. I've been chasing Le Mans many times to get a Rolex, and that didn't work out, so I came here. (Laughter.)
Finishing second, I figured at some point they would just take pity on me or something and give me that watch, but that didn't happen. No, it's just a great feeling. Bob was convincingly, absolutely dead sure that we were going to win it, and I was scared to death because we had the team dinner on Wednesday night, and he shows up, and he's like, we're going to win this thing, and I'm like, oh, my God, here he goes. Last time he did that we probably didn't make first hour.
I was like, this is like bad, bad, bad, and he was right. The guys were prepared. Everybody was on top of things. Everybody knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and the execution was perfect. Car was reliable. The Chevy engine in the car. What can I say? It's a dream come true. I've been coming here a few times already and never really had a shot, but this year from the start of the weekend and pretty much even before that, the first test sessions, through the Roar and all week we've been running at the front. In these moments, you're like, hmm, when are things going to go bad, and it didn't. We made it stick, and my teammates did a fantastic job. It's a heck of a feeling, and I couldn't be any happier. Thanks to Action Express, Bob and Jim France because they made that possible.
THE MODERATOR: Let's hear from Joao. This is his third class victory in the Rolex 24, his second win overall. Obviously he was part of the 2010 overall victory here, as well, with Action Express. Joao, congratulations. Maybe your thoughts on seeing that fullâ€‘course caution come out with 20 minutes to go and what you had to do to make it happen.
JOAO BARBOSA: I was very surprised. Probably Max, he said he saw a lot of debris that I really didn't see probably. I was looking somewhere else. I was really surprised by that caution, but it's racing, and we just had to deal with it. When they did the waveâ€‘by I saw there was a car between me and Max, and I saw there was quite a bit of opportunity considering how the rules are at this point that I could have an advantage there, and I took it, and I just was able to build enough cushion to â€‘â€‘ I don't say it was going to be easy, but at least I had enough margin for maneuver, so I had quite a comfortable gap at the end.
Q. You can say, well, that's racing and you just deal with it, but you still won. If you had been passed in that situation, would you be as diplomatic about that caution as you are right now?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Hell no. (Laughter.)
JOAO BARBOSA: I mean, we're here, we won the race, so that's another scenario that didn't happen, so I don't know if it's worth it to be talking about it right now. I mean, the racing is racing, and we are in the car, and we just drive the race that is happening to us.
It's out of our control, and we just do the best that we can with what we have and consider the circumstances. I mean, it worked out good for us today. Maybe some other day it won't, but it's the name of the game.
Q. Joao, we had some conversations, the seem had some tough times in November. Talk about recovering and getting here, and from a team standpoint you guys have come a long way to sit where you're sitting.
JOAO BARBOSA: I mean, we all say the same thing, but it's never enough to repeat. As soon as the rules came out, even before the new rules came out, we were already testing with some parts that could be put in the car. As soon as the new series started, we knew what we had to work. We did a lot of preparation and a lot of work before even the rules came out. We were one of the cars, I think the only car, that was in all the tests before this race. We never missed a test. The guys did â€‘â€‘ I don't know how they did it up in the shop in North Carolina because those guys work so hard to get us ready and prepared, especially after the little incident that we had here in November with the tire issue. I mean, we had to rebuild the car from scratch, and we were here and we were at Sebring testing and we were everywhere. We never missed a test just because of that.
It's good, took a lot of preparation. It's an ongoing process, and I think finally everything is clicking and everything is working really well. I mean, this definitely didn't happen overnight. The guys, they put over 12,000 hours of work since the last race. I mean, it's unbelievable what they have done so far. And of course this win, it's a great prize for them.
Q. Your commitments in IndyCar this year, is it possible you'll make more races? How different is the behavior of a DP car compared to a European prototype car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, yeah, I mean obviously to the first question, IndyCar is my main program. It's a full season. It's a twoâ€‘year deal with KB Racing and Chevy. Really pretty excited about that.
Thankfully the IndyCar season only starts after Sebring, so I could do pretty easily Daytona and get warmed up and do the 12 hours, as well. And then after the season do Petit. It worked out really good. I had a great opportunity to drive with these guys, and I couldn't be any happier right now. There are worse ways to start the season for sure.
And then more races, I don't know. Obviously they don't need me on a twoâ€‘andâ€‘aâ€‘halfâ€‘hour event, and I can't make Watkins Glen, so that makes it pretty easy. I think the IndyCar schedule from the end of March to the end of August is not going to give me much room to do much else. Just going to try and do well at what I've already committed and hopefully grab a bunch of wins this year.
I guess, you know, here the cars are very specific. They're very, very light on downforce. The track is pretty slippery and particularly when the sun comes out. It does a lot of sliding around.
Obviously on the European prototypes with slightly bigger tires, more downforce, the car doesn't tend to slide as much. But then when you go to Sebring, it wasn't that big a difference because we're running around I think in the 50s at Sebring, and on bad day with the Peugeot it was 48, 49. So it's pretty close. The cars actually got very decent power, and with the extra downforce from the new rules, it's pretty exciting. The car is fun to drive.
Q. Four years ago your car essentially was a â€‘â€‘ I don't want to say Guinea pig, but Bob and Jim were trying to develop the Porsche V8 engine. You've made a lot of changes in a lot of ways with your people, with your cars in the last four years. Are you amazed with the direction that you've wound up in and how far and how fast you've done it in just four years?
BOB JOHNSON: Well, I am a little surprised with how quickly we've been successful, but not as many changes as you might think. We have a lot of the same personnel, even carrying over from the Brumos days. I mean, we have people that have been a part of the organization from the beginning of when Brumos started racing.
So yeah, it's a little surprising because we have accomplished a lot in a short time, but again, it's just because of all the hard work, and people like Gary Nelson and Elton Sawyer and Coyote and the whole organization is behind us. When we had the problem with the car and did all the significant damage to it in November, if we hadn't had Coyote behind us to put another chassis in place very quickly, we couldn't have put the car together and been racing again as quickly as we did.
It's part of the organization, and that's what makes it possible.
Q. Christian, you talked yesterday about your little hiatus to go to Brazil and start a family. Now you're back, and that took longer than you thought it would. Do you feel like this is maybe a resurgence in your career or a startâ€‘over?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, let's put it this way: I have a U.S. passport, so I'm American, also. I intend to be here a long time. I really enjoy this place. I really love the country a lot. Not only in my sports car days but also back in my IndyCar days, Newmanâ€‘Haas, Carl Haas, Paul Newman, which my partner here also drove for them like they were a very special family, and I owe a lot to them. They gave me a lot of opportunities.
And now like in sports cars and with Action and Joao and Bob and obviously like the whole team, I feel very, very comfortable, and hopefully they feel the same with me.
Why not? I think sports car racing in this country is starting a new era right now, and we don't know where this is going to lead like in the next couple of years. But I am happy to be running together with them, extremely happy, and I'm putting all my effort into the program right now.
Q. Touching on what you just brought up, the new era, it was a good debut for the unified series. There's mixed reactions on the fullâ€‘course yellow and then the penalty in the other class. I'm wondering, you've been part of other racing series and also NASCAR, if you think that maybe the way the officiating was in the final 40 or so minutes might be where the series is headed?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I don't know so much about like the penalty box. We actually had a penalty ourselves with about three hours or four hours, six hours to go, and that definitely could have cost us the win. On the fact of the restart and where exactly should you be, I think if you're leading the race, there's a merit to you, to your team and to your car, so you should have an advantage.
It's the same thing if you do the quickest time in, for example, the practice qualifying. You start on the best place in the track because otherwise there wouldn't be any sense in being like the quickest guy out there. If you're on pole position, you get to pick what's the right side of the track, and you start on the best situation possible. If you're leading the race, I guess you should have also a small advantage so, I'm basically for that rule, and today I guess it worked our way, but maybe the next race is not going to work our way. But I am in favor of it.
Q. How would you guys rate the reliability and the power of the engines? Consider when you look at your class compared to how the Fords kind of struggled throughout the course of the weekend.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it speaks for itself, really, the Chevy power and the ECR guys did an awesome job. They locked up the entire podium. It was a pretty strong showing this weekend. Obviously Ford came out with a new product, so it's kind of to be expected that it was going to be a little bit rough around the edges. Chevy was definitely prepared for this one, and they got the result.
BOB JOHNSON: I might just add, I'm sure you're aware, there were problems with the Chevys in testing and at the Roar, and ECR made an allâ€‘out effort to get down here and get those problems solved. I'm not saying that Ford didn't make the same effort, but it paid off for Chevy. They put a tremendous effort into it.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
*Qualifying Driver (Starting Driver)
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