Following the team’s second championship win in a row in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship Prototype class, The Checkered Flag spoke to Action Express Racing drivers Joao Barbosa and Eric Curran.
Barbosa shared the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP with Christian Fittipaldi, and together they retained their championship win from 2014 with a class victory at Petit Le Mans. Meanwhile, Curran piloted the #31 car with Dane Cameron and came third in the championship.
“Obviously it feels great,” said Barbosa. “Last year we had a great overall season, very consistent. This year was very different. We knew it was going to be difficult but our goal was to defend the championship. We didn’t have the consistency of last year but winning again this year was very special. Action Express Racing did a phenomenal job and always fought back when the situation was difficult. I think that what made the difference was that we always believed we could repeat [our success]. Personally it feels great to be able to give back to the team all the trust they had in me in the last few years.”
“We came so close to winning the race and the championship,” added a frustrated Curran, whose Petit Le Mans could have ended so much more positively. “Had the race ended 15 minutes earlier I would have been in the lead and the championship would have been ours. Dane and I led tons of laps at Petit so it was a tough way to end the race and the year but a very successful season overall. Two wins, four podiums and 3rd in the championship in our Whelen Corvette.”
Barbosa and Fittipaldi arguably didn’t win the championship out of sheer success, but rather consistency. Before Petit Le Mans, they hadn’t won a round since the 12 Hours of Sebring back in March.
“[Sebring] is a very tough race. Winning there was an amazing feeling, it’s such a great race with a lot of history. It was a race where everything worked perfectly, and we lapped the whole field. It’s another of those important endurance races checked off my list!”
Despite rarely being on the top step of the podium, he was always sure of his chances heading into the final race.
“We had fast cars all year so I always believed we had a good shot at it. Apart from 1 or 2 races this year, we always had one of the fastest cars on track, so it came down to execution in every race.”
For Eric Curran, it was a completely different story after the rain-soaked Road Atlanta race. He led the race for a while and was set to take the championship until Nick Tandy overtook him, in the GT Le Mans class Porsche 911 RSR.
“I was asking Simon on the box what the split was to Tandy. He closed on me in traffic. His Porsche was a lot better in the slow speed corners and off line than my prototype. In the big picture I didn’t care. I had a 40 second lead on the second prototype so that was all the mattered.”
Whilst their team-mates were struggling for wins mid-season, Curran says that his season really came alive with a victory at Detroit.
“Detroit was our breakthrough race of the season. Our team was on it and Dane did an amazing job. To win in Chevrolet’s backyard was very special as I’ve been driving Chevy race cars for 15 years. For sure a highlight.
“The season started off a little rough with steering trouble at Daytona and a wheel issue at Sebring. But after that our newly assembled #31 team took off in the second half of the season. Dane and I really gelled together as teammates and the team did a phenomenal job in the pit stops. So to be that close in the championship was a bit of a surprise but it goes to show how strong the Whelen #31 team really is. 2016 is going to be great!”
Such difficult conditions at Petit Le Mans and controversial decisions from the race direction have brought out opposing thoughts amongst the drivers, throughout the paddock.
“It started OK, even if it was wet was OK to drive but as the day progressed conditions got worse and was very difficult and a dangerous situation,” commented Curran. “When you are driving for a champIonship in those conditions, it is very intense, you can’t make any mistakes but still need to push.”
“Those were probably the craziest conditions I’ve ever driven in throughout my racing career,” added Curran. “Prototypes aren’t easy to drive to start with, but in massive rain with all the traffic and poor visibility it was tough. But growing up in the snowy conditions of Massachusetts I found it to be challenging and rewarding.”
“I think the changes are a good thing,” he responded, when asked about the new specifications for 2017. “Moving to a more standardised carbon tub platform makes sense. Especially if cars from around the world could join IMSA. That being said, I’m eager to see the new manufacturer-related bodywork. In my opinion the Corvette DP is the best-looking current prototype. I hope Chevy designs another winning look for the 2017 car.”