Action Express Racing Teams Overcome Adversity, Score Podium Finish in 2015 Season-Opening Rolex 24 at Daytona
Daytona Beach, FL, January 26, 2015– Action Express Racing never stopped performing like a winning organization in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, even as both of their teams faced early setbacks in the 24-hour race. Following four strong practice sessions and impressive starting positions, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype and the No. 31 Whelen/Team Fox Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype both were forced to visit the garage early in the event, both going multiple laps down during repairs. However, both teams returned to the track faster and more determined than ever, completing the endurance race with two top-five finishes in the Prototype class. While the No. 31 Whelen/Team Fox fought back from the 51st position to finish seventh overall and fifth in class, the No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette drivers raced their way back onto the lead lap and into the second position, earning Mustang Sampling their first podium finish as a TUDOR United SportsCar Championship sponsor.
Action Express Racing arrived at Daytona International Speedway with team manager Gary Nelson’s ‘Expect to Win’ attitude, with both of their Corvette DP displaying strong performances in all testing and practice sessions leading up to qualifying. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling DP drivers João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sébastien Bourdais arrived ready to defend their 2014 Rolex 24 victory, and with Barbosa qualifying the No. 5 in the fourth position for Saturday’s race. The Whelen/Team Fox DP lineup of Max Papis, Eric Curran, Dane Cameron and Phil Keen had instant driver chemistry, and Papis earned the No. 31 Chevrolet a ninth-place starting berth.
Max Papis: “The No. 31 team showed resilience today; we were amazing. We had a lot of speed in the car and we overcame the steering box issues that we had in the beginning. We never gave up; we wrote on the board ‘Refuse to lose.’ That’s the kind of attitude this team has. We still accomplished our goal, which was finishing in the top five for our class. The car definitely deserved a podium finish, but this race was a great beginning to the adventure with Sonny Whelen, I want to thank everyone on the team, because today proved that this top-five finish might not be a lot for some, but it was a lot for us because it proved that we didn’t give up. Our attitude when we were many laps down was the same of those who were leading. You can’t buy this kind of attitude. Gary Nelson has built a great team of people with the same attitude. We will go far this year.”
Eric Curran: “I’m extremely happy with a fifth-place finish. We had some power steering issues early in the race with Max behind the wheel, but these Action Express Racing guys just nailed it. They got the car in and they got it fixed quickly. We gained a little bit, we lost a little bit, but in the end, we were as fast as the leaders all race long. My teammates Phil, Dane and Max all did a great job. I need to thank Sonny Whelen and Whelen Engineering for all their support. This was a big points day for Dane and I moving forward to Sebring. It’s going to be a good year and I’m pumped for the rest of the season.”
Dane Cameron: “I think overall, we should be really pleased. Our goal was to be a top-five Prototype and we achieved that. We had the issue right away that put us down, but it’s nice to know that if that hadn’t happened, we would have been right there contending in the end. It was a great first race to get everybody in the groove and get everybody working together. Everyone was comfortable in the car and working really well together. I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to and a great start on points for the season.”
Phil Keen: “The team is fantastic; Action Express Racing has been brilliant to work with. They made me feel really at home and welcome. It’s a shame we lost 17 laps at the start, but I think apart from that, the team and everything ran flawlessly, so a big ‘thank you’ to everyone involved. Thank you to Sonny Whelen and Sunoco and the team for making all of this happen.”
While the No. 31 team was overcoming its early steering issues, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Chevrolet drivers of Barbosa, Fittipaldi and Bourdais fought their way to the front, with Bourdais navigating the Corvette DP to the lead on lap 222 following a lightning-fast pit stop by the over-the-wall crew. However, adversity struck the team eight hours and 42 minutes in when Barbosa keyed the radio to report that he had lost fuel pressure on lap 268 while running second. Coming to a halt on the track, the Mustang Sampling DP brought out a full-course caution one lap later and was towed to the garage. The crew immediately diagnosed the issue as a bad connector on the fuel pump becoming disengaged and the issue was repaired quickly, but the team lost three laps in the garage, appearing out of contention for their second-consecutive Rolex 24 victory. However, as he returned to the track in seventh place, Barbosa came over the radio once again, stating “We’ll get it back.”
In true “Expect to Win” fashion, the team did get it back, utilizing the raw talent of its drivers and smart pit strategies, ultimately returning to the lead lap on lap 531 with just under eight hours remaining. On lap 545, Barbosa took the point position, leading the field for 53 laps. In the final four hours of the event, Barbosa, Fittipaldi and Bourdais continued to contend for the win, fighting hard until the clock ran out and the checkered flag waved. Bourdais closed out the race with a second-place finish, earning new sponsor Mustang Sampling its first podium finish.
Following the close of the 24-hour race, team manager Gary Nelson commented on Action Express Racing’s ability to troubleshoot and execute in the longest race of the season. “We have disaster plans for the team,” said Nelson. “I always say that if you just keep the wheels turning, good things can happen. If you are not moving, you can’t possibly be successful racing. We just kept the wheels turning.”
“I am so proud of this team’s effort,” said team owner Bob Johnson. “We’ve been preparing for this race since before last season ended; there are thousands of hours of work that went into our racecars this weekend. I think it says a lot about this team’s integrity and competitiveness to be disappointed with second place, but that’s the kind of team we are. We expect to win and we did everything necessary to do so this weekend.”
João Barbosa: “I think today’s finish all comes down to the preparation the team has done in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the fuel pressure that made me stop on track, but the team was prepared right away. It’s incredible to think that I only lost probably 10 seconds to fix the problem in the time between when I got to the garages and got back out there, it was coming to a stop on the track that cost us the three laps. For a while, it wasn’t looking very good, but I told the team that we would get what we lost back. We were three laps down for a long, long time, and we could have lost hope, but I think the team had an excellent strategy. The guys worked really well in the pit stand and did a perfect strategy. We got two laps back under one caution, so it put us back in contention. We were able to lead quite a few laps after that once we were on the lead lap, and, overall, we were pleased with our result. If we can’t win, then second is the second‑best thing. It’s very important for the points in the future. The team has to be proud with what they have and where we come from. Three laps down is never easy to come back from in such a strong field, but you know, we’re pretty pleased with second place and everything we accomplished today.”
Christian Fittipaldi: “We were one position shy, but at the same time, we’ll take it. We always had a fast car, but we never had a perfect car. We made a lot of changes that improved the car over time, and although the race didn’t go completely our way, we still performed excellent as a team. We’ll definitely take the points, and they are going to be very important for the championship, especially when it comes down to the last race of the year. I am very thankful to Chevy, Action Express Racing and Mustang Sampling; they all definitely put a whole huge effort behind the program. I’ll tell you, this race is a lot of effort because you’re pretty much preparing yourself the whole year for it, and everyone that’s here obviously wants to win. We didn’t do it today, so let’s move on to the next one.”
Sébastien Bourdais: “It was a pretty good day for the team, and I’m just glad I could participate with the effort, and it’s always great to race with these guys. We are happy to have fought back from three laps down to allow us to contend for the victory. We were lacking grip at times, especially as the sun went up, but we made changes to make the car the best it could be. I did everything I could in my last few stints to win, but the No. 02 just ran a perfect race at the end.”
The IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship next heads to Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida on Saturday, March 21, 2015.