Action Express Racing has won the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona. The season opener of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship was decided in the last hour after a full course yellow very late in the race. The nr. 5 Corvette DP of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais managed to keep the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP behind and went on to win.
A dramatic accident for Memo Gidley (nr 99 GAINSCO Racing Corvette DP) and Matteo Malucelli (nr 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia) earlier in the race resulted in a red flag for over an hour. Both Gidley and Malucelli were transported to a nearby hospital were Malucelli was diagnosed with concussion. Gidley underwent surgery to his left leg and arm and will undergo surgery to an unstable fracture to his back at a later moment.
With relatively good news on the condition of the two drivers filtering through to the race circuit the race continued and there were fights in most classes. As often happens the decision in the race came in the final hour. With less than half an hour remaining the nr 22 WeatherTech Racing GTD Class Porsche 911 GT America clipped the tyre barrier having just left the pits and race officials threw in a full course caution.
Barbosa saw his 13-seconds lead disappear, but reacted quick enough on the restart to keep Max Angelelli in the nr 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP behind. At the restart, with just eight minutes remaining, the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Oreca 03-Nissan sat between Angelelli and Barbosa but Angelelli quickly passed it and went after the Action Express Racing car.
Despite being under pressure Barbosa managed to keep Angelelli behind and after 695 laps the Portuguese driver finished the race after 1.461 seconds ahead of the nr 10 car. The second Action Express Racing car completed a Corvette DP top three.
The LM P2 cars entered in the Rolex 24 At Daytona stood no chance. They were no match for the Daytona Prototypes in the season opener. The Muscle Milk Pickett Racing car eventually finished in fifth overall, 3 laps behind the winner. The other LM P2 cars either retired or finished further down the order – behind the GTLM top two.
Porsche wins GT Le Mans
After taking a 1-2 victory at Le Mans last year the new Porsche 911 RSR also won at Daytona. Porsche North America drivers Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet took the win in the nr 911 Porsche 911 RSR, finishing sixth overall after 24 hours.
In the final laps of the race a charging Joey Hand (nr 55 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE) closed the gap to Patrick Pilet through traffic. Hand was trying to position his BMW for an attack on the leader when, coming up onto the banking, he was forced to brake after nearly being pushed up into the wall by the SMP Racing Ferrari.
After completing 679 laps Pilet finished 2.838 seconds ahead of Hand. Marc Goossens crossed the line in third place in the nr 91 SRT Viper GTS-R, four laps behind class winner Pile. Mechanical issues during the race prevent the Viper drivers from fighting for the lead of the race.
The new Corvette C7.R didn’t have a trouble-free first run. The nr 3 car retired with an overheated engine, while the nr 4 car dropped out of the top five after a late race gearbox change.
Level 5 Racing wins GTD category
The GTD category saw the most controversial finish of the race though. After the last full course caution Markus Winkelhock (nr 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS America) and Alessandro Pier Guidi (nr 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia) fought hard for the race win.
The cars went door-to-door on a number of occasions and going through the kink on the final lap of the race Winkelhock went onto the grass. Pier Guidi crossed the line in first place but almost immediately IMSA announced the nr 555 Ferrari would get a 70-seconds penalty for ‘avoidable contact’, effectively relegating the team to fourth in class.
Hours after the race had ended IMSA Competition and Technical Director Scot Elkins announced that IMSA had reversed the decision to penalize the Ferrari and it was declared the winner of the GTD category.
“A full post-race review of the incident on the last lap of the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona was completed by IMSA Supervisory Officials. The decision has been made to reverse the decision by the race director, rescind the penalty against the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia team, and reinstate drivers Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Giuidi as the GT Daytona class winners,” said Elkins in his statement.
“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.”
As a result Winkelhock, Spencer Pumpelly, Tim Pappas and Nelson Canache were classified as second, ahead of Snow Racing’s Jan Heylen, Madison Snow and Marco Seefried.
CORE autosport wins in LM PC
Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Mark Wilkins and James Gue started the race from pole position and a near trouble-free race resulted in the race win for the CORE autosport squad.
The nr 54 Oreca FLM 09 had battled with the nr 25 8Star Motorsports car of Potolicchio/Huff/Kimber-Smith/Marsal during the night but eventually finished a lap clear of its rivals. Performance Tech Motorsports finished third in the LM PC category after Kyle Marcelli was forced to retire when his Starworks Motorsport car caught fire with just over two hours remaining.
The next race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will be the Sebring 12 Hours in March. But before that the teams will be able to take part in the Winter Test at the same circuit.
Marcel ten Caat
Photo: LAT/Dole, Porsche, Level 5 Motorsports