Action Express Racing Repeat At Sahlens Six Hours


Barbosa and Fittipaldi took their second consecutive win (Credit: Grand-Am)

Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa mounted a comeback in the final third of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen to take their second consecutive Rolex Series win. The result was meant Action Express Racing successfully defended the 2012 race win given them by Barbosa and Darren Law.

The 2013 driver combination drove back through the order in a topsy-turvy final two hours of the race after Barbosa was spun out of second place by Stephane Sarrarzin in 8Star Motorsports’ #3 Corvette DP. The contact pushed the Portuguese driver down to ninth before he was able to begin the climb back up the order.

Sarrazin was quickly punished for causing the accident with the standard 60 second stop and hold penalty. However, with co-driver Michael Valiante the #3 would still finish second, the Canadian closing to with three-tenths of Fittipaldi by the end of the race.

The two teams had swapped the lead back and forth around the half way mark – the Action Express Racing crew credited with leading at half way to take points for the North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) – before a flurry of pitstops around the 100 lap mark that also included the fourth full course caution of the race to retrieve the BGB Motorsports GX Class Porsche of Dr. Jim Norman.

By virtue of having completed their pitstop before the yellows flag flew and bunched the field up it was Starworks Motorsport and Sebastien Bourdais who took the lead into the penultimate hour. The #2 team, with Alex Popow at the wheel had led the opening 22 laps of the race, after moving from third to first on the opening lap, taking advantage of gear shift linkage problems for pole sitter and points leaders Wayne Taylor Racing that condemned the #10 to an entire race spent several laps behind the leaders.

Bourdais led without trouble, but a short, sharp rain shower over the New York state track proved a decisive moment in the race. After several laps of slowly worsening conditions within seconds of each other Ricky Taylor, Jon Fogarty and Jeff Westphal all spun off at the same corner. While Westphal in the Scuderia Corsa GT class Ferrari and Fogarty in the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing DP were able to slither off the wet grass back onto the track unaided Taylor needed to be pulled away from the tyre wall, necessitating a fifth and final full course caution of the race.

Controversially Bourdais was able to make a pitstop just as the caution came out, when the pits are normally closed. In the stop the team followed much of the rest of the field onto wet tyres, Ryan Dalziel also climbing into the Ford-Riley for the final stint. Dalziel returned to the race, maintaining the lead, but on a track now drying out of the range of the treaded Continental tyres. Spotting the change in condition many of the other leading teams came back to the pits under caution to swap back onto slick tyres. However, trying to make it to the end of the race with just one more pit visit Dalziel was left out for the restart on the wet tyres.

That proved to be a mistake. Re-starting second Fittipaldi took the lead from Dalziel on the restart and pulled away as Scott Pruett struggled to find a way into second past Dalziel. The Scot did eventually pit after only a few laps under green, the gamble on wet tyres failing to pay off. That elevated Pruett into second and Ozz Negri into third in the Michael Shank Racing #60 and Valiante fourth.

The #3 team were the first to make their final pitstop of the race, sparking a number of other team to pit as strategy scrambled the field. Fittipaldi and Pruett pitted together a lap after Valiante, Fittipadli completing his stop trouble free, Pruett collecting a 30 second stop-go after leaving with the fuel nozzle still connected to the Chip Ganassi Racing BMW-Riley.

Running a different strategy – one reliant on a much later final stop – Brendon Hartley took the #8 Starworks entry to the lead with Fittipaldi second and Negri closing in from third position. With Hartley due a final stop it was clear that the growing battle between Fittipaldi and Negri would before the fight for the lead, with the Michael Shank driver looking likely to at least catch Fittipaldi, if not easily take the position. Completing a pass should have been made easier when Fittipaldi got sideways. However, Negri was forced into evasive action across the grass, plugging the low-lying radiators, forcing unwelcome extra stop upon the Brazilian that dropped he and co-driver John Pew off the podium down to fourth.

Fittipaldi continued to lose time, but the problems for Michael Shank and Chip Ganassi team had given him a healthy advantage that Valiante was unable to overcome even as rain threatened Watkins Glen once more.

After a late splash and dash Hartley completed the podium with Scott Mayer and Pierre Kaffer in the #8. Action Express’ #9 and Michael Shank Racing’s #60 team finished fifth and sixth respectively. After their assorted difficulties the #2 Starworks team, Chip Ganassi Racing, Spirit of Daytona Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing completed the top ten overall.

After leaving Mid-Ohio a fortnight ago with ‘only’ a top ten finish Stevenson Motorsports, with drivers Robin Liddell and John Edwards, returned to winning ways, collecting a fourth win of the year.

Liddell lead the opening seven laps of the race after starting on pole before giving up the position to pit under race’s first caution period, brought out by the #62 Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports Porsche of Andrew Davis. After the stop Liddell was momentarily absent from the lead battle, Eric Curran, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Balzan instead swapping the lead between them.

The teams of all three would suffer problems that would take them from the lead battle. The Marsh Racing Corvette Curran shared with Boris Said, like Dalziel in the DP class, gambled on the weather, staying on wet tyres once the rain had stopped. The #63 Ferrari started by Balzan slid off the track in the wake of Taylor and Fogarty, while the #61 R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport car of Segal, Max Papis and Toni Vilander lost three laps to an electrical problem.

It was the AIM Autosport Team FXDD 458 of Emil Assentato, Anthony Lazzaro and Leh Keen that emerged in the role of the Ferrari challenging the Stevenson Camaro for victory with Keen starring in a rare drive in a Ferrari.

It took until lap 115 for Keen to take the car to the lead for the first time, passing Edwards as the pair edged onto the far side of the track where the rain had started to fall.

Liddell retook control of the #57 Camaro under the final caution of the race but had to wait to retake the lead until after the wave of the green flag when Pedro Lamy was called into the pits from the lead to serve a penalty in the #93 Turner Motorsports BMW.

Liddell was comfortably clear in the lead, the focus of the class now on the battle for second with Andy Lally leading Keen in the final hour. Both made their final stops together, Lally the first to come to a halt in the Magnus Racing Porsche to take fuel and tyres. Keen, meanwhile, took only tyres and was able to take the leave ahead in a position he kept to the second place, finishing 14 seconds ahead of the Porsche.

Tristan Nunez, Joel Miller and Yojiro Terada won the GX class to claim a fourth victory for the new for 2013 Mazda 6. The trio, sharing the #00 car were the sole finisher in the three car class after both the BGB Motorsports Porsche and the pole sitting #70 Mazda 6 retired.