Action Express Racing wins historic Rolex 24 at Daytona (UPDATED)

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After over 23 hours of grueling racing, the first Rolex 24 of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship era came down to an eight-minute sprint. But Joao Barbosa was up to the challenge.

An iffy full-course caution bunched up the field for a final dash but Barbosa was able to pull away from Wayne Taylor Racing’s Max Angelelli and take the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP to victory at Daytona International Speedway.

Barbosa shares the victory with Christian Fittipaldi and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais, marking the fourth consecutive Rolex 24 that has seen IndyCar represented among the drivers of the winning team.

“I didn’t want to see that caution, I had quite a full gap, so I could manage traffic,” Barbosa said to Fox Sports in Victory Lane. “I was getting quite worried initially because I was hitting traffic at the wrong moment…Then when the yellow came, I was like, ‘Aw man!’ I was struggling with the car, the gears weren’t going in as I liked it – they were sticking a little bit.

“But man, what a race. Action Express 1 and 3, Corvette 1-2-3…These Action Express guys are the best and my teammates did a wonderful job. We had a little hiccup during the night but we still had plenty of time to come back and that’s what we did. We kept fighting to the end.”

But the most exciting battle at the end involved the GTD class as the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi of Markus Winkelhock battled for the class win.

On the final lap, Pier Guidi and Winkelhock went side-by-side through the infield course’s kink section before Winkelhock went off-course. Pier Guidi crossed the start/finish line first, but IMSA delivered a stop-and-75-second time penalty for avoidable contact to the No. 555, apparently giving Winkelhock and Flying Lizard the victory.

However, multiple TV replays appeared not to show any contact between the Level 5 and Flying Lizard cars as they went side-by-side.

MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno, reporting this weekend from Daytona, later confirmed that IMSA officials were holding discussions regarding the outcome. Then, shortly after 6:15 p.m. ET, IMSA announced that they would rescind the penalty on the No. 555, making Pier Guidi and co-drivers Townsend Bell, Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, and Jeff Segal the official GTD winners.

Bell had voiced his outrage in the immediate aftermath of the original penalty, saying that he was “gutted” for the entire Level 5 team and that he didn’t “understand the logic” of the decision.

“I think the fans want an answer for how a call comes through like that when the video evidence is so obvious,” Bell said at the time. “…I feel like we deserve this one.”

Several hours after the finish, he and Level 5 officially got the result they thought they had earned on the track.

In GT Le Mans, Porsche North America had a victorious debut as Patrick Pilet took the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR to a narrow win over the No. 55 BMW Team RLL Z4 GTE of Joey Hand, who was moving in on Pilet before he was run up toward the wall in NASCAR Turn 1 by a lapped car in the closing moments.

“It was crazy –  the last 10 minutes, we were less than 200 meters in front but the guys did an amazing job,” Pilet said. “We had a lot of problems in the Roar [test]…Porsche made a wonderful car [today] and the Michelin [tires] worked perfectly.”

Finally, the No. 54 CORE Autosport team earned top honors in Prototype Challenge with Colin Braun taking the checkered flag.

“…We just executed our plan from the time we got here – getting the pole, being fast in practice, winning the race – you couldn’t ask for more than that,” Braun said.

CLASS WINNERS – 2014 ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA
Prototype/Overall: No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Sebastien Bourdais)
Prototype Challenge: No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09 (Colin Braun/Mark Wilkins/James Gue/Jon Bennett)
GT Le Mans: No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR (Patrick Pilet/Richard Lietz/Nick Tandy)
GT Daytona: No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia (Alessandro Pier Guidi/Townsend Bell/Scott Tucker/Jeff Segal/Bill Sweedler)

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.