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Action Express stun with Rolex 24 win

1 February 2010

David took on the Goliaths and won Sunday's 48th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. In a race marked by unusual weather, heavy attrition and a record number of lead changes, Joao Barbosa held off Scott Pruett by 52.303 seconds to win the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race in the #9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley.

It was the second consecutive runner-up finish in the race for Pruett, a three-time Rolex 24 winner who teamed with Memo Rojas, Max Papis and Justin Wilson in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' #01 TELMEX/Target BMW Riley, a team that won three of the last five Rolex 24 races.

Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Lucas Luhr finished third, four laps behind in the #95 Crown Royal/NPN BMW Riley. A jammed seat belt early Sunday morning - resulting from a piece of tape - cost the team two laps, taking them out of the fight.

Ricardo Zonta, Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Colin Braun finished fourth in the #75 Krohn Racing Ford Proto-Auto Lola, followed by Ozz Negri, John Pew, Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins in the #60 Crown Royal XR Ford Riley.

Sylvain Tremblay, Jonathan Bomarito, Nick Ham and David Haskell won the GT race by four laps in SpeedSource's #70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8.

The race started under caution Saturday due to a deluge that soaked the track during the two hours prior to the start. While the rain quickly let up, conditions remained treacherous for several hours due to damp conditions, particularly off the racing line. Sunday's portion was run under dry but very chilly and windy conditions.

It was Barbosa's second consecutive victory in Rolex Series Daytona Prototype competition; he and Hurley Haywood won the 2009 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Brumos Porsche. Barbosa led a race-high 129 laps; the four Action Express Racing drivers combined to lead 316 of the 755 circuits.

"It's just unbelievable," Barbosa said. "For the team to perform under really difficult circumstances like 24 hours, they did an amazing job."

For Borcheller, it was his third class victory in the Rolex 24 and first overall: "It's really special," Borcheller said. "'04 was amazing, just because the way the race ended up in the last 15 minutes with us winning when Tony Stewart driving the Crawford broke. But that was also the first year I believe that a Daytona Prototype won overall. So the competition was - it's always there, but it was nothing like it is now."

It also marked the second consecutive and 22nd overall victory for Porsche in the event. David Donohue, Darren Law, Buddy Rice and Antonio Garcia won in 2009 in a Brumos Porsche Riley, using a flat-six Porsche engine. A Cayenne-based V-8 engine - built in Germany but highly modified in America by Lozano Brothers - powered Sunday's winning entry.

It was an emotional day for the defending race winners. Moments after five-time Rolex 24 winner Haywood turned a sizzling time of 1m 42.2s in his final lap in professional competition, Raphael Matos went to the garage and retired the car they shared with Donohue, Law and three-time Rolex 24 winner Butch Leitzinger with two-and-a-half hours remaining.

Ironically, a false alarm gave the Action Express team some breathing room when Justin Wilson, driving the #01 BMW Riley, drove to the paddock as a precaution.

"We just had one hiccup," Wilson said. "I came out of the bus stop and heard a large clunk. I thought I'd blown a tyre and I dove into the pits, but they told me it was all okay. Maybe it was just some debris on the track."

The race featured a record 53 lead changes among 29 drivers. All but two of the Daytona Prototypes led in the event, and all but two of them experienced heart-breaking problems that dropped them out of contention.

Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray combined to lead 139 laps in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' #02 TELMEX/Target BMW Riley. Montoya was leading the race at midnight when his car began smoking. Moments later, he went to the garage and the car was retired with engine failure.

The defending Daytona Prototype champion #99 GAINSCO Chevrolet Riley was retired while running fifth. An oil pump failure led to a variety of complications that eventually forced four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson to take the car he shared with Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney and Jimmy Vasser to the garage.

Michael Shank Racing had both of its cars running at or near the front for most of the race before both broke in the closing hours. Burt Frisselle went out in the team's #60 Crown Royal XR Ford Riley co-driven by Ozz Negri, John Pew and Mark Wilkins, while NASCAR regular A.J. Allmendinger's day in the #6 Ford Riley co-driven by Michael Valiante, John Pew and Mark Patterson went up in smoke with 75 minutes remaining.

The #10 SunTrust Ford Dallara started from the pole by Max Angelelli, but had to recover from an incident early in the race to finish sixth. The car was also driven by team owner Wayne Taylor, his 20-year-old son Ricky Taylor and Pedro Lamy.

A team that experienced problems with cold tyres at the pit exit was the new #7 Starworks BMW Riley driven by Ian James, Mike Forest, Bill Lester and Dion von Moltke.

Derek Johnston, the 2008-2009 British Radical UK Cup champion, drove in the event after winning the inaugural Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge, and finished 10th in class, sharing the #77 McDonald's Ford Dallara with Memo Gidley, Brad Jaeger and Fabrizio Gollin.

Defending race winners Rice and Garcia, sharing the #90 Menards Porsche Coyote with Paul Menard and Darren Manning, finished 13th in Daytona Prototypes.

Action Express Racing was formed during the offseason when Brumos cut back to a one-car team. Longtime team associate Bob Johnson leased a Riley chassis and mated it with a Porsche Cayenne-based V-8 engine.

The dawn hours saw terrific racing between Barbosa and Papis, who battled nose to tail for several laps.

"That's why Chip hired me," Papis said. "He hired me to run fast and take chances. I leave my friends at home."

The winners' average speed was 111.930 mph. The race was slowed 16 times by caution for 74 laps.

Meanwhile in the GT class SpeedSource's 'never give up' motto was evident in making up several positions and laps during the latter stages of the race. Once down seven laps to the class leaders, #70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 co-drivers Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Jonathan Bomarito climbed back from a deep deficit to give the team its second Rolex 24 victory in three years. It was the second Rolex 24 class victory for Tremblay, Ham and Haskell, and Bomarito's first. It also marked Mazda's 23rd class victory in the Rolex 24.

"This win is for all the dealers, 900 of them all across North America and Mexico," Tremblay said. "And I think we have over 9,000 members in Mazda Speed Motorsports and club racers, that have the same will to win, the will to never give up. And that's what it was all about."

Tremblay started third in the #70, but wasn't able to stay up front early. The car lost two laps between the third and fourth hours and several more when Bomarito radioed to his crew the car was suffering from a vibration. By the 14th hour, the car was sixth in GT, but seven laps off the leader's pace. However, problems - mechanical woes and running out of fuel, among them - plagued SpeedSource's competitors, and by the 20th hour, the Mazda RX-8 led the class. Additional misfortunes by other competitors, coupled with SpeedSource's efforts, put the quartet ahead by four laps over the #67 ShoreTel/Openwave Porsche GT3 and co-drivers Seth Neiman, Johannes van Overbeek and 2009 co-winners Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long.

The SpeedSource drivers let the race come to them, and then stayed in position to take the victory. For 16 consecutive hours, no car from a team other than TRG or Stevenson Motorsports led the GT class. In fact, the two teams held the top five positions for most of that time as well.

Van Overbeek, Bergmeister and Long all led laps, both Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, and fought #71 TRG Porsche GT3 teammates and two Stevenson Camaros for the top spot.

But during the final quarter of the race, that all changed. Stevenson Motorsports driver Andrew Davis in the#57 BryanMark Financial/Stevenson Automotive Group Camaro vacated the lead when he brought his car behind the wall with transmission problems; all three drivers led, and combined for a race-high 217 laps. In the next two hours, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Bobby Labonte in the #71 TRG machine ran out of fuel on the superstretch. Though it occurred under caution, it was the last time the #71 led during the day.

The #67 Porsche GT3 also suffered setbacks - in fact, twice - while leading during the race's final six hours. A broken spring and a stuck throttle forced the team from the point both times.

"There were times where I'm sure the Stevenson guys thought they had it in the bag where we thought we had it," Long said. "The 71 and, of course, the Mazda guys, did a great job."

SpeedSource's #69 FXDD Mazda RX-8, featuring polesitter Jeff Segal, regulars Emil Assentato and Nick Longhi as well as veteran Anthony Lazzaro, was a solid top-five performer until a water leak did the car in after 17 hours. The #69 was relegated to 16th in class.

That left Tremblay's #70 up front, and by four laps. Overall, Tremblay, Ham, Haskell and Bomarito finished seventh. They finished with 145 laps led among them. Bomarito crossed the start/finish line under the chequered flag to complete the 707th GT lap.

"Amazing," Bomarito said. "I was fortunate enough to do this race with these same three guys last year. And to be able to come back and have that continuity and that relationship, we just felt so confident in all of each other's ability, the car, and we knew what we had to do. We just had to stay out of trouble and keep the car on the track, and we did that. And here we are. I got a new Rolex. I can't believe it."

Ham, who joined Tremblay and Haskell in the 2008 Rolex 24 victory, said prior to the race's finish he would be relinquishing his role as Tremblay's fulltime co-driver for 2010.

"It just feels really wonderful," Ham said. "And it's been an honour and a pleasure to represent SpeedSource and Sylvain and all these people - thank you very much for the opportunity. And it means a lot to me."

Bergmeister, Long, van Overbeek and Neiman finished second. TRG's Andy Lally, Wolf Henzler, Kelly Collins, Ted Ballou and Pat Flanagan finished third in the #66 AXA Porsche GT3 after overcoming a sensor failure before the race's halfway point. The field's only three-driver team - Davis, Robin Liddell and Jan Magnussen - finished fourth in the #57 Camaro, the new car's first race in Rolex Series competition. Craig Stanton, John Potter, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Richard Lietz were fifth in the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3. Fourth through seventh places were separated by only one lap.

The next race for the Grand-Am Rolex Series will be the Grand Prix of Miami on March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


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