Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi gave Action Express Racing their first win of the Rolex Series season, Barbosa passing Richard Westbrook to lead the final 22 laps of the two hour, 45 minute race at Mid-Ohio.
The battle for the lead came to a head with half an hour to go as the lead pair came upon the similarly close battle between GT leaders Bill Auberlen and Eric Curran. Westbrook held the lead through the final corner but left the inside of turn two open a few corners later as he tried to negotiate the fighting BMW and Corvette.
With slight contact Barbosa seized on the opportunity to a way up the inside to take the lead pull away as Westbrook struggled through the traffic suffering in the cockpit. After losing the lead Westbrook spun out of second at turn one, falling to fifth before finally pitting to leave teammate Ricky Taylor to complete the race for the team to finish in ninth.
The result was unrepresentative of a Spirit of Daytona Racing team that Taylor had put in the lead around the outside of the race’s opening corner past brother Jordan Taylor. Having taken the lead Ricky led the first 36 laps though two caution periods in the first dozen laps before pitting under a third and leaving the lead to Michael Valiante.
The Canadian had taken over the 8Star Motorsports Corvette DP from team owner Enzo Potolicchio under the second of the early cautions, leaving Valiante to complete the remainder of the race. He survived relatively unscathed from contact with Scott Pruett that spun the #3 (almost into the path of Starworks Motorsport’s Alex Popow) just before the crucial third caution came out, allowing Valiante into the lead.
He kept the point, under increasing pressure from a closing Barbosa and Westbrook, until the trio made their final stops at the same time at the end of lap 71. Exiting the pits the top three had been completely reversed, Westbrook now heading Barbosa and Valiante though he had to wait a lap, and for Dane Cameron to pit in the #42 Team Sahlen BMW-Riley, to take the lead.
Once Westbrook had spun from the lead battle Valiante was elevated back to second, putting 8Star onto the Rolex Series podium for the first time in their maiden season. Popow and co-driver Ryan Dalziel completed the podium with Michael Shank Racing fourth for John Pew and a returning Ozz Negri.
After falling from the lead on the opening lap Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli could only finish sixth their championship lead cut to just a point over Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, who one place better in the race with Popow and Dalziel just another point in arrears.
Reigning champions and former points leaders Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett lost further ground with a tenth place finish. Much of the delay was owing to the contact between Pruett and Valiante which damaged the suspension on the #01 and drew a penalty for avoidable contact.
Before then it was Rojas who had been the victim of contact as the Chip Ganassi Racing team again tangled with Gustavo Yacaman in Michael Shank Racing’s #6. The pair had made contact on the opening lap at Detroit, and following the first restart the pair clashed again, Yacaman trying to force a move down the inside of Rojas. The contact pushed Rojas off the track momentarily but Yacaman would fare worse still, understeering off with damage a few corners further round before stopping the car trailing flame to bring out the second caution of the race.
After playing their role in the change of lead in the Daytona Prototype class Auberlen and Curran continued to fight over the GT class lead through the closing stages, Auberlen always able to stay ahead in the Turner Motorsports BMW. That was until Curran went search for a gap at the inside of the turn two hairpin with two laps remaining.
Auberlen tried to shut a door that was only slightly ajar, contact pushing the BMW into a long lazy spin that lasted much of the 180 degree radius of the corner. Curran continued on cross the line first, but by the time he did he had already been given and one minute, 24 second penalty that gave the win back to Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana, though only by half a second over the Magnus Racing Porsche of Andy Lally and John Potter. Anthony Lazzaro and Emil Assentato were third in the AIM Autosport/FXDD Ferrari with the penalised Curran and co-driver Boris Said fourth.
Polesitters Stevenson Motorsports only finished tenth despite drivers John Edwards and Robin Liddell combining to lead the first 61 laps. The decisive moment in the race, as they looked to extend their winning streak to a fourth race, came at the final pitstop.
From the lead and second respectively Liddell and Jeff Segal pitted together but a quicker stop from the R.Ferri/AIM crew put the two cars side-by-side at the exit of pitlane. The pair made wheel-to-wheel contact giving both punctures that necessitated immediate returns to the pits. Furthermore Liddell was given a 60 second stop-go penalty for causing the contact that dropped the Camaro team further down the order.
Tom Long and Sylvain Tremblay led all but four laps of the race in the GX class to claim a dominant win in the #70 Speedsource Mazda 6.