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Action Express Cleans Up At The Rolex 24

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, January 28 2018

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac DPi with Felipe Albuquerque at the wheel, took the checkered flag in the Rolex 24 on Sunday.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Action Express Racing survived a dying engine in its No. 5 car and a driver-time snafu in its No. 31 car to finish 1-2, respectively, overall in the 56th annual Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car race at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.

Billed as “North America’s Most Prestigious Sports Car Race,” the event kicked off the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship around DIS’ 3.56-mile/12-turn “roval” layout that incorporates the track’s famed high-banked turns.

The black No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R., with Felipe Albuquerque at the wheel, took the checkered flag a lap ahead of Stuart Middleton in the No. 31 Caddy. The winning No. 5 Prototype completed a record 808 laps/2,876.48 miles.

The overall win was Albuquerque’s first and came a year after a collision with the winning No. 10 Cadillac of Wayne Taylor Racing cost him a shot at the 2017 Rolex.

“One year ago I left this point devastated, very sad,” Albuquerque said. “Definitely what does not kill us makes us stronger. All these flashbacks were coming back in my mid. I was really thinking the engine was dying. So it’s a great new engine, this Cadillac.

“I won and it was very emotional, breaking the spell. Knowing what happened last year was nothing with me. It just makes me stronger and for sure it’s going to be much better for the rest of the season.”

Colin Braun in the No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA LMP2 car finished third, 20 seconds behind Middleton.

Sharing the wheel with Braun were Jon Bennett and veteran prototype heavyweights Loic Duval and Romain Dumas.

“We had a great race,” Braun said. “We didn’t really have any issues. We just stuck to our strategy, drove our own race and didn’t make any mistakes. We got pretty close to a win there at the end and maybe if we had another yellow or two we could have made it happen, but a podium is a good way to start our first Prototype season.”

Dumas, who won championships as a factory driver for both the Audi and Porsche prototype programs, said, “We (Core) are not a factory team and we thought, especially in the first hour, it will be difficult to win if you are not. We were close to a win though. If we knew before the race that we will finish on the podium, we are excited. On the other hand, when we see our speed in the last hours, we want more.”

The No. 5 Caddy experienced engine overheating woes for much of the final hours of the race. Albuquerque was forced to back off the throttle to keep the engine from potential failure but the two-lap lead he had constructed allowed him to keep running and get the win.

“My steering wheel was like a Christmas tree with the water temp flashing up and oil temp shutting off…and I’m thinking it’s not going to last,” Albuquerque said.

Co-driving the winning car were Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.

“We’ve waited for this moment 365 days and we did it,” Fittipaldi said.

Sharing the No. 31 cockpit were Mike Conway, Eric Curran and Filipe Nasr.

The No. 31 team miscalculated the time that Middleton was in the car during the race so it had to pit late to put him back in the cockpit. Teen-ager Middleton earned his ride with the team as a result of winning the Sunoco Whelen Challenge.

“My first 24 hours,” Middleton said, “to finish on the podium in the Prototype class is just crazy. I’m so honored to do the job I’m doing. I tried to learn as much as I could this race weekend.”

“I hate finishing second,” Nasr, a Formula 1 veteran, said. “Having the opportunity to join the Whelen Engineering Cadillac was an amazing experience. I felt like we had the car to fight for the led from the very beginning. A few issues here and there, losing laps to the No. 5 car…but you can’t get better than 1-2 for Action Express. Overall an amazing job getting all the drivers comfortable in the car and the procedures in the team. I can’t wait for the next one.”

The battle in GT Le Mans also evolved into a stablemate vs. stablemate affair as the Ford GTs of Chip Ganassi Racing finished 1-2. Ryan Briscoe drove the No. 67 Ford across the finish line about 11 seconds ahead of the No. 66 Ganassi car of Joey Hand.

Briscoe co-drove with Verizon IndyCar Series star Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook. They gave Chip Ganassi his 200th win as a race-team owner.

The No. 3 and No. 4 C7.Rs of Corvette Racing were third and fourth, but two laps back.

Antonio Garcia, class pole-winner Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller placed third in the GT Le Mans with their No. 3 Corvette. It marked the second Rolex 24 podium for the trio after they finished second two years ago, and it gives Garcia and Magnussen positive momentum as they seek to defend their GTLM Driver Championship from last year.

 “I think we can be happy,” Garcia said. “We again didn’t make any mistakes by the drivers, the pit stops were fine… we may have had an unscheduled stop for brakes. Other than that, everything worked perfect. We just didn’t have the pace. It was a little bit like what happened a lot last year. If this was Lime Rock, I’d be super happy with third. But here at Daytona or Le Mans, you only want to win. That’s part of our driver mentality… we want to win these races. But we can be proud. Our guys did a fantastic job. We showed all we had and gave it all. If the Fords were faster than us, we can’t do anything else but congratulate them. We just didn’t have enough to fight them, especially with the limited number of yellow flags.”

In GT Daytona, the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with Mirko Bortolotti driving the final stint, posted the victory. Finishing second was the No. 86 Acura NSX with Alvaro Parente at the wheel.

Bortolotti was was joined by Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera and Rik Breukers in the No. 11 Lamborghini. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Lamborghini. 

Five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett, racing for the final time, co-drove the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 to a ninth-place finish (29th overall) in the GTD class. Pruett retires with a share of the Rolex 24 all-time overall victory record, tied with Hurley Haywood. Pruett holds the race record for class victories with 10.

“It was business as usual,” Pruett said. “But the memories here, the races here, the fans here … it’s [all] second to none. The first thing to do, now, is toast this career with my wife and my family. And second, it will be just to take a moment to look back, and to savor it all.”

The race was extremely clean as only four full-course caution flags were waved.

New records were set on Sunday afternoon, both in overall distance completed and overall laps covered.

The race-winning Cadillac completed 808 laps at 2,876.48 miles. The new laps record was established at 1:20 p.m. when the No. 5 completed lap 763.

The laps completed mark broke the one established in 1992 by the Nissan R91 CP driven by Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Toshio Suzuki and Anders Oloffson, whom completed 762 laps in 24 hours back in 1992.

Due to different track layout configurations, the overall length record would not be broken until 1:45 p.m. The new record was established once the No. 5 crossed the 2,760 miles mark.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, January 28 2018
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