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)

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.