Action Express Racing’s team of Sebastien Bourdais, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi made history in giving the Chevrolet Corvette DP its first Rolex 24 at Daytona victory in the first round of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
The final chapter in the story of the race was an eight minute sprint brought about when the Alex Job Racing Porsche nosed into the tyres on the in the infield to cause the 17th and final caution of the race. That deleted the 16 second gap between Barbosa and Max Angelelli, anchoring the Wayne Taylor Racing team in which he joined team owner Wayne Taylor and his son Ricky and Jordan in driving duties.
However, the chances of any dramatic battle to the flag were dashed by the restart, which placed the slower LMP2 car of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing between the leaders, with Angelelli unable – under the rules – to pass until the green flag came as he was on the banking of turns three and four of the high-banked oval. As race leader, meanwhile, Barbosa was able to accelerate exiting the Bus Stop chicane giving him a buffer that Angelelli was unable to do anything about in the closing laps.
A final battle would have been a fitting end to a race which, between them, the two teams had largely dominated – with the help of the second Action Express Racing entry, which finished third driven by brother Burt and Brian Frisselle, Fabien Giroix and John Martin. Front row starters Spirit of Daytona Racing completed an all Corvette DP top four on a day when the DP chassis dominated their LMP2 rivals in the P class of the newly formed championship.
The inherited fourth place late on when the #02 Riley-Ford of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was pushed off pit road inside of the final hour. The car had been a contender for the lead – and so for the victory at earlier points in the race. In the hands of Scott Dixon the car – co driven by Tony Kanaan, Marino Franchitti and Kyle Larson – led much of the second hour of the race that followed the opening stint led by Alex Gurney from pole position in the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP.
The demise of the #02 car so close to the end of the race was the final play at the front of the race for the trio of Ford EcoBoost engine Rileys. Michael Shank Racing’s sole entry had been claimed by gearbox problems, the results of the destruction of first gear going on to necessitate a gearbox change in the #60 car that dropped them 50 laps off the lead. Like the #60, the Ganassi #01 briefly led the race, but contact with the outside wall through NASCAR turn three took the car out of commission long enough to remove it from the lead battle before engine problems late in the race put a full stop on their involvement.
The #02’s late problems also moved the best of the LMP2 cars – the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing entry that was to play an unwittingly central role in the final laps – up to fifth, three laps down on the leaders.
The early hours of the race were marred by a serious accident between Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli. In the GTLM class Risi Competizione Ferrari Malucelli slowed exiting the International Horseshoe – the first of infield hairpins. Gidley then slammed into the rear of the 458 as he emerged from behind another car. The impact launched the Ferrari skyward, while destroying the front end of the GAINSCO Corvette DP that had started the race from pole position.
The race was red flagged for over an hour while rescue team attended to both driver, cutting Gidley from his car. Both drivers were taken to direct to hospital, where Gidley underwent an operation on his left arm and leg. He also suffered a fractured back, that will necessitate a further operation, in the accident.
While obviously the most serious accident of the early running it was not the only incident. The race was only ten minutes old when the field was slowed under the full course caution for the first time after Charles Putman lost control of the Fall–Line Motorsports Audi R8 under braking for turn one, hitting the wall backwards, bringing his race to a very premature end.
It was not a good race for the Audi teams in the GTD class, hoping to give the R8 a second consecutive class win at Daytona, with many backed with Audi works drivers. GMG Racing’s R8 was taken out of the race in another accident in the early hours of darkness, clipped by another car in the fast chicane at the back of the pits before spinning into the wall protecting the pit exit, strewing wreckage across the track that forced several cars into avoiding action – including the then leader Angelelli, who spun the #10 car briefly leaving the overall lead Michael Shank Racing.
Almost certainly the best of the Audi teams at the start of the race was the Paul Miller Racing squad, especially after they had been reinstated to the class pole position after Christopher Haase’s qualifying performance had initially been disallowed.
The team – completed by Bryce Miller, Matt Bell and Rene Rast – set the pace in the class on a regular basis through the first half of the race, one of several teams to lead the race’s most populous – and perhaps most competitive class. However, an awkwardly located water leak would trigger several lengthy stays in the pits and garages.
As Paul Miller’s all-star Audi line-up was taken from contention another Audi team, the #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports entry. They had started the race quietly but raced forwards as mechanical niggles and minor incidents started to impact more and more teams – moved into the lead battle, where they were remain for the rest of the race in battle with the Ferraris of Level 5 Motorsports and Scuderia Corsa.
The latter’s #63 entry would follow others to the garages, another victim of contact on a race track that remained busy with cars after 67 took the green flag. But, despite the large number of Porsches, a contingent headed, in the race order, by Snow Racing for much of the race, the lead battle remained an Audi versus Ferrari affair to the end of the race, delivering the most dramatic finish of the race just as the Rolex Series’ GT class did 12 months ago.
The GTD fight was already the closest race for a class lead on track before the final yellow Markus Winkelhock restarted the race directly behind Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari he needed to pass to class win that eluded him in 2013 when he ran out of fuel on the final lap.
Now representing Flying Lizard Motorsports in their first race after their off season switch to Audi, Winkelhock’s chances looked to have taken a – physical and metaphorical knock – when he and Pier Guidi touched at the Bus Stop on the first lap back to racing. The German immediately called in reports of a wounded car as Pier Guidi pulled away, seemingly sure of the win. However, at the bus stop minutes later Pier Guidi made a mistake, bumping through the grass, losing enough time that Winkelhock was able to retake the lead.
Pier Guidi battled back, the pair side by side around the baking before the Ferrari lunged ahead before braking for turn one off the tri-oval banking. Wounded car or not Winkelhock was able to pull alongside as the pair exited the International Horseshow and headed for the high speed kink on the final lap. As such it was inevitable that neither would lift and that something was going to happen – that something being contact. However, none was made, but that was part of what happened.
Neither lifted, but the two wide racing through the left hander all but impossible Winkelhock took the grass on the outside after Pier Guidi had been forced onto the kerb on the inside. Winkelhock wrestled for control of the Audi, keeping it from spinning, though Pier Guidi was clear in the lead. Officials made a quick call, penalising the Italian for avoidable contact – the rule applied does not say there actually has to be contact. The penalty – controversial at the time – dropped the Level 5 team (DRIVERS) to fourth in class and gave Winkelhock and the rest of the Flying Lizard team – Tim Pappas, Steven Berthau and Spencer Pumpelly – the class win.
Hours later the penalty against Pier Guidi was rescinded, the class win going ‘back’ to Level 5 Motorsports and the team of Pier Guidi, Bill Sweedler, Scott Tucker, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal.
The GT Daytona category’s de facto big brother – GT Le Mans – also delivered a close battle in the final run to flag as two teams remained in contention after several top teams had departed the lead battle throughout the race.
The first manufacturer’s challenge to falter – Ferrari’s aside after Malucelli’s dramatic exit – was SRT, a fact made all the more surprising by the fact that the Vipers made much of the early running after Marc Goossens had put the #91 car on pole position. The car’s initial spell in the lead lasted all of four corners before it was caught in the bottle neck on the infield which resulted in Jon Bennett being spun around in the CORE Autosport PC, scattering much of the field behind and immediately shuffling the GTLM order, with the #93 Viper the immediate beneficiary.
The #91 was able to race back to the lead, but just nine hours in they were seriously delayed by a ruptured power steering line which dropped them eleven laps off the class lead. The sister car would follow the #91 into the pits from the class lead shortly afterwards carrying heavy front end damage after contact with the wall.
The Vipers’ issues left Corvette Racing as the best hope of having an American car win the class and, in its first race the C7.R proved a worth successor to the successful C6 with the two yellow machines paired up against the pair of Porsche North America 911 RSRs in racing for the lead.
Both manufacturers’ would be reduced to a single combatant before the final hours. After swapping the lead back and forth with the sister car for several hours the #912 Porsche was put out of the race by an engine mid-morning on Sunday, while the #3 Corvette had previously exited the race after being plagued by overheating problems.
In the final hour Tommy Milner would bring the #4 Corvette to the pits from second place after a transmission bearing failure. Though the team were able to replace the gearbox in time to return the car to race before the checkered flag it was only for a fifth place finish, having lost ground to the recovering #91 Viper and #56 BMW Z4 of BMW Team RLL, which had lost time during Sunday morning after failure in right-front wheel bearing. Conversely it was the other Z4 – driven by Joey Hand, Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx and Maxime Martin – that came forth to deliver the late challenge for the Porsche dominance in the class when the final caution allowed hand onto the tail of Patrick Pilet’s #911.
Just as in the P class slower traffic was to play a crucial role I deciding the outcome as Pilet and Hand fought past GTD cars though the infield and onto the banking of NASCAR turn one. Trying to keep in touch with the Porsche for the blast down the back straight Hand looked to pass the SMP/ESM Ferrari on the high side of the turn one banking. However, as the BMW pulled to the outside the Ferrari too moved out towards the wall, forcing Hand to slow at a crucial point and allowing Pilet to escape to a deserved victory for the Porsche team, and co-drivers Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy.
Though outpaced by the best of the GTLM teams CORE Autosport made good on their pre-race dominance of PC class, taking the class victory by a lap – the category being the only one in which there was only once car on the lead lap. The result completed a memorable double for the team, which is also behind the Porsche North America squad.
Their race started in the worst possible fashion when Bennett was turned around at the International Horseshoe while trying to stay ahead of the GTLM pack but the team – team owner Bennett joined by James Gue, Colin Braun and Mark Wilkins.
The race in the class would become a three-way fight between the CORE squad, 8Star Motorsports’ entry and the #7 Starworks Motorsport car, that would be running in second place until Kyle Marcelli bailed out of the on-fire car on the back straight with two hours to go.
Unsurprisingly given it was the PC class’ first competitive 24 hour race it was the part of the field most thinned by retirements and the class results reflected this fact. While the CORE and 8Star cars were split by just a lap at the top the class – ninth and tenth overall – there were another eight laps back to the Performance Tech Racing car that claimed third in class.
The TUDOR Championship continues with the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 15.