Action Express Wins Rolex 24

Action Express

Action Express Racing ushered in a new era of North American sports car racing Sunday with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Action Express Racing ushered in a new era of North American sports car racing Sunday with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

Joao Barbosa, who teamed with Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais, took the checkered flag in his No. 5 Corvette Prototype to win the season-opening race of the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. A late full-course caution tightened the field and left Barbosa with a margin of victory less than 1.5 seconds over runner-up Max Angelelli.

“When the yellow came, I was struggling with the car," Barbosa said. "The gears weren’t as smooth as I would have liked it. They were sticking a little bit. But what a race. 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.”

The Rolex 24 win was the third for Barbosa (2010, DP; 2003, GTS), second for Fittipaldi (2004) and the first for Bourdais, who has been the runner-up three times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"It's one of these big races that you just want to put on your résumé," Bourdais said. "I've been chasing Le Mans many times to get a Rolex, and that didn't work out, so I came here. 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."

With the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series coming together for the first Rolex 24 under the TUDOR banner, 67 cars - over 200 drivers - were in the race providing traffic on 3.56-mile road course through-out the 24 hours.

“It’s wild out there," Fittipaldi said after one of his stints. "Of all the eight races I’ve done here, this is definitely the worst. Because there are so many competitive cars, sometimes you get a bunch of GTs fighting and are basically nose-to-tail. It’s hard for you to pass them. They want to help you but they are in their own race and own battle. Sometimes you come up on six to eight cars but you have to be patient. This is by far the hardest race here that I’ve done."

Angelelli along with teammates Wayne Taylor - driving for the first time since 2010 - and his sons Ricky and Jordan Taylor combined to lead 12 times for 227 laps in the No. 10 Corvette Prototype.

“Firstly, I’d like to just say that it was a heck of a race,” said team owner Wayne Taylor, who co-drove to Rolex 24 victories in 1996 and 2005. ”It was an incredible weekend, an emotional weekend to be in a situation to have my kids and Max, who is like my oldest kid, to be together. We’ve been around each other for the last 20 years, whatever it is."

Brian Frisselle finished third in another Action Express Racing entry with co-drivers Fabien Giroix, John Martin and Burt Frisselle.

"This whole weekend started to come together for us on Wednesday night," said Burt Frisselle. "We had a big team dinner, both cars, and we really felt like we had an opportunity to be one two. One-three was a little bit short of our goal, but, you know, we'll take it. I think Action Express even with the affiliation with Delta, everyone worked so hard, so well together, and we felt even back when we were testing in the beginning of this month, back in December, that we were going to have two cars capable of winning, and today we did have two cars capable of winning. One did, and one came home on the podium."

Porsche won its 76th class victory in the Rolex 24 with Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet piloting a Porsche 911 RSR to the win in the GT Le Mans class to finish sixth overall. 

“We ran flat out the entire race," Pilet said. "We have to congratulate the entire team, without the problems with Corvette and Viper, we might not have had a shot, so we didn’t give up. But that’s what so great to race in the US, you never know what is going to happen, it is open right up until the very end. We made some fixes after the last test, just in time for this race, and we made it. We got the win.”

Colin Braun, Mark Wilkins, James Gue and Jon Bennett took the win in Prototype Challenge, the first Rolex 24 for the class. For all the drivers, it was their first Rolex 24 win, but for Braun it was his second at Daytona after winning in the Brumos Porsche 250 in 2006.

“Obviously just really excited,” Braun said. “These guys at CORE autosport did such a good job, and I think it comes down to the preparation that we had over the wintertime. We worked really, really hard to come up with a plan that we wanted to stick with, and we just came prepared this weekend and executed our plan, down to being quickest in both practices before qualifying, qualifying on the pole, winning the race. “

There was controversy in the final lap of the GT Daytona race when race officials handed Alessandro Pier Guidi a 75-second penalty for avoidable contact handing the win to Markus Winkelhock - and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports team - who went off track while the two raced side-by-side. But after a full post-race review was completed by IMSA Supervisory Officials, the penalty was reversed a little over three hours later giving Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal, Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler and Pier Guidi the win.

"Our rule book is very clear in regards to this type of a situation," said Scot Elkins, IMSA vice president, competition and technical regulations. "There is a section in the rule book in many, many places where it mentions a group of supervisory officials. Those officials are named, and it's very clear that when a decision by the race director is one that the super advisory officials feel needs a review, the process for us to do that exists, and that's exactly what's happened here. It's very clearly stated, and it's something that is for cases just like this.

"We regret the confusion following the race, and appreciate the patience by our fans, drivers, teams and the media so we could properly review and subsequently report this decision."

The Level 5 Motorsports team were finally able to visit the media center shortly after 6 p.m. ET to take part in the post-race winning interviews.

"I don't want to talk about the decision because it's an IMSA process," Pier Guidi said. "I don't want to say anything about that, but I want to say it was really an exciting two last laps of the race. After 24 hours we were so tired, but we never give up. Now I am here finally, and I am so happy and proud to have won the 24 Hours at Daytona."

The race featured 17 caution flags, including a red flag early in the race for a violent accident between the cars of Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli. Both drivers were transported to Halifax Health Medical Center where Gidley underwent surgery on his left arm and left leg. He will require additional surgery for an unstable fracture in his back before he can be released. (Read More)

“I was able to talk to Memo this morning, and it’s great to see that he’s in good spirits," said Jon Fogarty, co-driver of the No. 99 Corvette Prototype. "His positive attitude and physical fitness will be a huge asset in his recovery. I am just super grateful that he is okay and getting better, that is all that matters.”

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, the defending Prototype winners, finished eighth and 11th with its No. 02 and 01 cars, respectively, in their first race with Ford EcoBoost power.

“I can’t say enough about the Ford guys and how far we have come from the Roar (test)," said Scott Pruett, a five-time Rolex 24 winner. "It seemed like from the start the '01' car was just plagued with problems. The pit stop, then me hitting the fence. It breaks my heart that I hit the fence and then this. But to see where we were, and where we are now, this is a great step moving forward with this program."

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will return to action on March 15 for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

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