DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – 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.
In addition to the victory, Action Express Racing unofficially 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, 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 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.