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)

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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