DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Want to know a secret to success that not only can be applied to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but can be words to live and applied anywhere in daily life?
“You have to keep the wheels turning.”
That’s the philosophy used by Action Express Racing Team Manager Gary Nelson. And if the team’s performance since the inaugural WeatherTech Championship race, the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, which was won by the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP and co-drivers Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais, is any indication, it’s a philosophy that works.
In the 17 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup races held since 2014, the No. 5 team has six victories, 13 podium finishes and top-five results in all 17.
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R team scored its most recent victory in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona with Barbosa, Fittipaldi and new full-season driver Filipe Albuquerque leading a 1-2 Action Express sweep ahead of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R co-driven by Eric Curran, Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton.
Just for good measure, the No. 31 team (which was the No. 9 team in 2014) has a strong endurance racing record of its own, with seven podiums and 12 top-five results in those 17 races, including another 1-2 sweep for the team in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen back in 2016.
Overall, the No. 5 team has won all four season-ending Patrón Endurance Cups handed out so far and won back-to-back WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles with Fittipaldi and Barbosa in 2014 and 2015.
The No. 31 team took the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype crown with Curran and then-co-driver Dane Cameron. Between the two teams, they’ve won 13 WeatherTech Championship races since the start of 2014.
It all goes back to keeping the wheels turning. It’s a philosophy that Nelson brought from his previous experience as a crew chief in NASCAR, where he won two Daytona 500s – in 1982 with driver Bobby Allison and in 1986 with Geoffrey Bodine – and the 1983 NASCAR Cup Series title, also with Allison.
“If the things we’ve learned through many years of racing in NASCAR, we can apply them to get everybody on the team thinking big picture and taking a pragmatic approach of what you do now will affect you later,” Nelson said. “I think I’ve made it as simple as I could by saying, ‘You have to keep the wheels turning.’ If the car stops, if the wheels stop turning, you have to get them turning again.”
“That sounds pretty simple, but that means you have your spare parts ready. It means you have your mindset ready. It means you can keep your wits about you when things don’t look like they’re unfolding properly. There was a saying in basketball that, even if you get an elbow in the ribs, you still have to make the shot.”
“So many things can distract you, but if you have this core value to keep the wheels turning, you’ll do better in endurance racing.”
It’s a core value the Action Express drivers have bought into as well. In fact, Fittipaldi, who is looking for his fifth straight Patrón Endurance Cup in the cockpit of the No. 5 while transitioning to a new role as the team’s sporting director, uses the same phrase.
“Keep those wheels turning,” Fittipaldi said. “It’s very, very important. Not only the preparation of the car, which we are 100 percent aware of that. It starts back at the shop. We didn’t have all this success because we succeeded on the track.”
“Keep the wheels turning goes to the drivers also, as far as making some smart decisions on the track. You need to be at the end in order to win. If you’re not at the end, you’re never going to be able to win.”