More than 23 and a half hours of grueling and demanding racing came down to a four-lap dash to the finish as Action Express Racing and the No. 5 Corvette DP held off Wayne Taylor Racing and the No. 10 Corvette DP to win the 52nd anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
After a late full course caution, Portugal’s Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 car was able to hold off Italy’s Max Angelelli in the No. 10 car to win the debut event of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship by a margin of 1.461 seconds.
Brazil’s Christian Fittipaldi and France’s Sebastien Bourdais joined Barbosa on the winning team. The overall Rolex 24 win was the second for Fittipaldi and Barbosa and the first for Bourdais.
“I didn’t want to see it (the final caution),” Barbosa said. “I had quite a good gap and cushion so I could manage traffic. I was getting quite worried initially because I kept hitting traffic at the wrong moments. When the yellow came, I was struggling with the car. The gears weren’t as smooth as I would have liked it. They were sticking a little bit.
“These Action Express guys are the best. And my teammates…what a phenomenal job. We had a little hiccup during the night but we still had plenty of time to come back and that’s what we did. We kept fighting to the end.”
“I can tell you, I tried everything, adjust all I had in the car, to settle the car, to find a good balance, a good run,” Angelelli said. “But I did not have enough for him.”
The victory also had some local flavor. Bob Johnson, owner of Action Express Racing, is from Daytona Beach while Barbosa now resides in nearby Ormond Beach. Action Express Racing, which also won Rolex 24 overall in 2010, also took third place overall with the No. 9 Corvette DP with drivers Burt Frisselle, Brian Frisselle, John Martin and Dabien Giroix.
“It’s one of these big races that you want to put on our resume,” Bourdais said.
The No. 5 winning car covered 695 laps, 2,474.2 miles in the Rolex 24.
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 car, made a return to the cockpit for this year’s Rolex 24 to drive alongside his sons Ricky and Jordan and Angelelli, who is a longtime Taylor Racing driver.
While runner-up honors were disappointing, Wayne Taylor said he thoroughly enjoyed the driving experience with his sons and Angelelli.
“It was an incredible weekend, an emotional weekend to be in a situation to have my kids and Max is like my oldest kid, to be together. We’ve known each other for the last 20 years.”
The No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 and drivers Jon Bennett, James Gue, Colin Braun and Mark Wilkins claimed the first-ever Rolex 24 class win in the Prototype Challenge.
“These guys did such a good job and I think it comes down to the preparation that we had over the wintertime,” Braun said. “We worked really, really hard to come up with a plan that we wanted to stick with and we just come prepared this weekend and executed our plan down to being quickest in both practices before qualifying, qualifying on the pole, winning the race. I think we must have led the most laps.”
The GTD class (GT Daytona) victory came down to an intense last lap battle between the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia and the No. 45 Flying Lizards Motorsports Audi R8.
A last-lap judgment call by IMSA officials made winners of Audi drivers Spencer Pumpelly, Markus Winkelhock, Nelson Canache Jr. and Tim Pappas.
Winkelhock appeared to have been forced off the track in the infield by No. 555 Ferrari F458 Italia driver Alessandro Pier Guidi as the cars streaked through the infield. Though the Ferrari was first to the checkered flag, IMSA initially imposed a stop-plus-75-second penalty on the No. 555, enough to give the victory to the No. 45 Audi.
But after further review, IMSA reversed the ruling and awarded the win to the Ferrari team, which also included Scott Tucker, Jeff Segal, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. The Audi team was relegated to second place.
“The winning team is now declared the winner,” Sweedler said following the announcement in the Infield Media Center.
In the GTLM class (GT Le Mans), the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR with Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet edged the No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE of Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx, Joey Hand and Maxime Martin by 2.838 seconds to take the class victory as well as sixth overall.
“We knew Daytona, the circuit, would be good for the characteristics of our car,” Tandy said. “We knew if the car was going to run well, we would be competitive for sure. The Roar was a really good time to get a lot of work done. Normally it’s a time where you can refine settings and little details, it was really a good three days to prepare for the race. We really expected to be good and competitive.
The victory was the 40th class triumph for the Porsche 911.
Tickets for all upcoming Budweiser Speedweeks 2014 events are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.