The Action Express team, from left, Joao Barbosa, Sebastien Bourdais and Christian Fittipaldi, celebrates its win in the IMSA Series Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Sunday. (AP Photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Action Express Racing led a Corvette podium sweep in the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona, where Joao Barbosa held off Max Angelelli on a restart with 8:23 remaining Sunday to preserve the team’s second overall win in four years.
Barbosa had driven the No. 5 Corvette to a 13.1-second lead when a full-course caution with 21 minutes remaining put the victory in jeopardy. The field was bunched and Angelelli had one final chance to give Wayne Taylor Racing the win.
But Barbosa easily pulled away to get the win for teammates Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais. It’s the second overall victory for Barbosa, third in class. Fittipaldi was part of the winning 2004 team, and it’s Bourdais’ first victory.
Action Express’ second entry finished third for an outstanding day for the Bob Johnson-owned organization. Action won its first Rolex in 2010, and Barbosa was part of that team.
“The first event in 2010 that happened to turn into a win was — I probably expected that the least of anybody,” Johnson said. “But this one wasn’t unexpected. This one we expected to win.”
It wasn’t easy. Barbosa was black-flagged for avoidable contact while running second Sunday morning, a penalty he called “really harsh” at the time. But the team recovered and worked its way back into contention.
The caution nearly unraveled the comeback. While Angelelli thought there was enough debris to warrant the caution, Barbosa disagreed.
“Max, he said he saw a lot of debris that I really didn’t see,” Barbosa said. “I was really surprised by that caution, but it’s racing, and we just had to deal with it. But we’re here, we won the race.”
Wayne Taylor Racing finished second for the second consecutive year.
“I tried everything I had in the car, trust me, everything I had to use,” Angelelli said.
Co-owner Wayne Taylor came out of retirement to drive for the first time since 2010, seeking a chance to share the seat with Angelelli and sons Ricky and Jordan. The 58-year-old Taylor drove one stint Saturday and then retreated to the pit stand to strategize for what he hoped would be a third — and most memorable — victory.
“It was a great result, and to have my family and my kids drive with me and Max, it’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” Wayne Taylor said. “Obviously, we wanted to be the first winners for Chevrolet in the Corvette, but we were second best and they won fair and square.”
Action Express’ second car, with drivers Brian Frisselle, Burt Frisselle, John Martin and Fabien Giroix, was third.
Chevrolet was the top manufacturer standing at the end of the twice-around-the-clock endurance race.
Two Nissan teams took the next two places in the top-tier Prototype class. Ford was shut out in its debut of its new EcoBoost engine as the manufacturer stepped into the new unified Tudor United SportsCar Championship supporting teams for the first time.
The No. 01 car of Chip Ganassi Racing team wasn’t able to defend its race win because of a series of problems that plagued the car starting very early in the race. Ganassi’s No. 02 entry was taken out of contention when it developed a flat rear tire while Scott Dixon was running second with roughly five hours remaining. The car went to the garage with 48 minutes remaining when the floor of the Ford Riley began to unravel and Dixon could see the pavement under his feet.
Michael Shank Racing’s entry, the 2012 race winning team, was halted by a broken gearbox.
But many in the Ford camp considered it a success considering the questions about reliability with the new engine package that plagued the manufacturer in preseason testing.
“To see where we were, and where we are now, this is a great step moving forward with this program,” said five-time Rolex winner Scott Pruett. “This is a whole new engine with technology that hasn’t been in the sport before. We were here at (testing) and we left early because we had issues. So coming back here, everyone put this gallant effort ... to run like we did, when you think about where we were, it’s huge.”
CORE autosport finished a lap ahead of 8Star Motorsport to win the Prototype Challenge class.
“I’ve loved motorsports all my life,” said CORE owner and co-driver Jon Bennett. “It’s so great for it to love me back today.”
Porsche North America claimed the GT Le Mans class with its No. 911 RSR entry.
The crowded GT Daytona class had the most thrilling — and controversial — finish of the race.
The victory went to Flying Lizard Motorsports when IMSA officials penalized Level 5 Motorsports for avoidable contact on the last lap. But Sunday evening, IMSA reversed the decision and returned the class victory to Level 5.
Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Level 5 Ferrari traded the lead in the final laps with FLM’s Markus Winkelhock, who was driving an Audi. With the Audi mounting a challenge heading into the kink portion of the course, the two cars battled side by side through the tight corner. The Audi ran off course, and although replays showed no contact between the two cars, the Ferrari was penalized for avoidable contact and Flying Lizard was awarded the victory.
The race was the first for the new United SportsCar Championship, which merged Grand-AM and the American Le Mans Series and created the a unified sports car series for the first time since 1997. It made for a crowded 67-car field with teams spread across four cluttered classes.
Slower cars created a terrifying wreck about three hours into the race Saturday.
Memo Gidley broke his back and needed surgery on his left arm and leg after slamming into Matteo Malucelli’s Ferrari at nearly full speed. Gidley, driving for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, was trying to avoid a slowed car when the crash happened. He had to be cut out of the No. 99 Corvette, which crumpled like an accordion upon impact.
Both drivers remained at nearby Halifax Health Sunday night.