The Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona , the first event of the new combined TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, has been won by the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, with Sebastian Bourdais sharing the top step of the podium with his co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.
Barbosa took the wheel for the final stint of the gruelling endurance race, and despite recurring gear-selection problems on Sunday he was able to maintain the lead and hold on through a late caution that saw the race came down to a final 10-minute sprint to the chequered flag.
“I didn't want to see it," Barbosa admitted of the late caution. "I had quite a good gap and cushion so I could manage traffic.
"When the yellow came, I was struggling with the car," he explained. "The gears weren't as smooth as I would have liked it. They were sticking a little bit. But what a race. Action Express first and third; Corvette, one-two-three."
“This is as big as it gets," added Bourdais. "It's one of those historic races you want on your resume, and it's done today. It was done fighting hard for it. It really feels good for Team Chevy and everyone involved because we went and grabbed this one."
Babosa finished just 1.461s ahead of the second-placed Taylor Corvette DP driven by Wayne Taylor and his sons Jordan and Ricky alongside Max Angelelli, although the team expressed frustration at being in the runners-up spot for a second year in succession.
"It's disappointing. I never thought I would say that for finishing second at the 24 Hours!" admitted Ricky Taylor. "We had a really good car. It was nice when you know that the Corvette is the car to beat and you are lucky enough to drive one. It was really cool to have an opportunity to win. That is just more reason to be disappointed. We had such a good car. Corvette was the car to have so that is kind of disappointing."
"Not that happy to be honest," concurred Jordan Taylor when asked how he felt after the flag. "It is two years in a row that we haven't been in the garage or had an issue with the car, and finished second both years. So, it is frustrating. But at the end of the day. It's good for points, good for the championship and a great day for Corvette, so I can't complain."
Action Express also claimed third place with the #3 car in the hands of brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle and their co-drivers John Martin and Fabien Giroix which was the only other car in the race to have completed 695 laps by the time the clocked ticked down to zero.
The race had been hit by a 90-minute red flag interruption late on Saturday afternoon, after Memo Gidley's pole-winning #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing car ran into the back of the ailing #62 Risi Ferrari 458 Italia in a high-speed impact that demolished both cars and led to a lengthy recovery operation to cut Gidley out of the wreckage.
Gidley had surgery on his left arm and leg late Saturday at the nearby Halifax Health Medical Center facility just a mile away from Daytona International Speedway, and was also reported to have suffered an "unstable fracture" in his back that would require further surgery before he could leave.
"This stuff, it happens, it's racing. But you never expect it to be your car, your team," said Darren Law, Gidley's teammate.
Drivers speculated that Gidley had been unsighted by traffic and the glare of the sun low in the sky at the time of the accident and simply had no warning that the Ferrari had abruptly lost power ahead of him on the track.
"At that point conditions were really hard, the sun was setting," explained Fittipaldi. "One was at start-finish and the other point was coming out of Turn 3 and coming out of the kink. I imagined there was a slow car ahead of him and he couldn't see."
The driver of the Ferrari, Matteo Malucelli, was also treated and held in hospital overnight but was eventually released 24 hours after the accident.
It had proved a frustrating day for the Ganassi Riley-Ford team, with their #01 car suffering engine problems two hours from the end while in the hands of Scott Pruett, and the #02 car also retiring in the last 25 minutes with serious problems with the floor which meant that Scott Dixon - sharing driving duties with Tony Kanaan, Marino Franchitti and Kyle Larson - reported that he could see the track under his feet through the bottom of the car meaning it was too unsafe to continue.
The GT Le Mans class honours went to the CORE Porsche 911 RSR team of Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet who finished in sixth place overall with Britain's Tandy at the wheel for the flag just 2.838s ahead of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW Z4s driven by Andy Priaulx, Joey Hand, Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin.
The winning ORECA-Chevrolet FLM09 Prototype Challenge car was a victory for the CORE driver line-up of Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, James Gue and Mark Wilkins, who finished a full lap ahead of the class runners-up, the #25 which boasted Britain's WTCC star Rob Huff alongside Tom Kimber-Smith, Enzo Potolicchio and Mike Marsal.
The closest - and most controversial - finish was in the GT Daytona class which saw the Flying Lizards Audi R8 LMS of Markus Winkelhock, Tim Pappas, Nelson Canache and Spencer Pumpelly handed victory after the race despite crossing the line in second place behind the #555 Level 5 Ferrari driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Race control deemed Pier Guidi to have made avoidable contact with the Audi in the final lap and handed down a time penalty that dropped them off the podium entirely. The team appealed the decision, and later on Sunday evening a statement from Scot Elkins, International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) vice president for competition and technical regulations confirmed that Level 5 had been restored to victory lane.
"The decision has been made to reverse the decision by the race director, rescind the penalty against the #555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia team, and reinstate drivers Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Giuidi as the GT Daytona class winners," wrote Elkins.
"We regret the confusion following the race, and appreciate the patience by our fans, drivers, teams and the media so we could properly review and subsequently report this decision."
The final results of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona mean that Action Express Racing unofficially takes the early lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Having led at the final two of four scoring segments during the race allowed Action Express to tally 17 points, matching the total of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Wayne Taylor Racing is one point back, with 11.
Ford and Chevrolet are tied for the lead the Tequila Patrón Endurance Cup Prototype Manufacturers standings with 13 points. CORE autosport took over the lead in Prototype Challenge, scoring 14 points to break a tie and forge a two-point lead over 8Star Motorsports.