Photo courtesy of IMSA

Rolex 24: Action Express hang on for victory, Ganassi gets 200th win

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Although the finish of the 56th running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona did not produce the same no-holds-barred fight we’ve seen in recent years, there was plenty of drama as overall and class leaders battled either mechanical problems or varying fuel strategies that kept the results uncertain right to the very end.

But, at the checkered flag, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi for Action Express, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, and the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 all claimed victories.

For Action Express, it is their third overall victory at the Rolex 24, while Ford Chip Ganassi Racing claimed its second consecutive GT Le Mans crown and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his 200th win as a team owner across all of his racing organizations. Meanwhile, GRT Grasser Racing Team took its maiden class victory, taking home GT Daytona honors.

Below are quick reports on all three classes:

Prototype

The final hours of the Rolex 24 were incredibly tense as Action Express Racing continued to battle overheating problems, notably on their leading No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. In the hands of Filipe Albuquerque, the team asked him to back off considerably, at times shutting the car off on the banking while running lap times anywhere from three to six seconds slower than its closest challengers.

As a result, both the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, in the hands of Stuart Middleton, and the No. 54 CORE Autosport Oreca 07 Gibson, in the hands of Colin Braun, decreased the gap dramatically, with both Middleton and Braun even getting back on the lead lap in the final minutes.

However, Albuquerque was able to nurse the car home to take the win and avenge last year’s disappointment, when the team ended up second after late contact with Ricky Taylor.

Albuquerque was joined in Victory Lane by co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, and also gives Action Express its third win at the Rolex 24.

The No. 31 experienced drama of its own, with Middleton needing to get back in the car near the end of the race to meet his minimum drive time quota. The team thought he had met the minimum, but IMSA officials informed team officials that Middleton was just short, forcing them to call an audible and put Middleton back in the car.

Despite being the youngest and least experienced driver of the lineup, Middleton ran a clean race to the checkered flag to finish second with co-drivers Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, and Eric Curran.

Colin Braun managed to finish third, with co-drivers Jon Bennet, Romain Dumas, and Loic Duval.

GTLM

A dominant performance by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing produced a 1-2 finish for the team that spent nearly the entire race in the GTLM lead.

After trading the lead back and forth several times between them, it was the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and Scott Dixon taking the victory over the No. 66 of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastien Bourdais.

It is the second consecutive team victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, with the No. 66 team taking the win last year. It is also the 200th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization and their eighth Rolex 24 victory (six in Prototype, two in GTLM).

The No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R finished third with Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller.

GTD

A closely fought battle that saw three marques and four teams fight tooth and nail in the final hours saw GRT Grasser Racing Team bring home the GTD victory with Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera, and Rik Breuker.

Bortolotti held the the lead for GRT Grasser in the waning minutes and appeared to face a challenge from Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, but a late stop for fuel put an end to their chances for victory.

The win gives Lamborghini its first ever class win at the Rolex 24, and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was consistently one of quickest cars going back to the Roar Before the 24 test on the first weekend of January.

The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 finished second with Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge, AJ Allmendinger, and Trent Hindman.

Third went to the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini, with Andrea Caldarelli, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Bryce Miller.

The race, which featured only four full-course cautions, also shattered the records for total laps and total distance covered. The winning No. 5 Action Express Cadillac covered 808 laps and over 3,070 miles, shattering the previous records of 762 laps 2,760 miles

 

Full results

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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.