DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In a 24-hour race of attrition, it was only fitting for the most seasoned sports car teams to control the podium at Daytona International Speedway.
Action Express Racing won its third Rolex 24 at Daytona overall title, and Chip Ganassi Racing celebrated the organization’s 200th victory with a win in the GT Le Mans class.
Both two-car teams finished first and second in their respective classes.
The Action Express team of Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi drove Cadillac to the overall victory Sunday, and it’s other car finished second. It’s the second consecutive Rolex overall victory for Cadillac but came from the team that finished second last year.
Ganassi’s two Ford entries dominated the GT Le Mans class and defended last year’s victory.
The team of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon won and defeated its sister car, which was the defending class champion. The car of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais finished second.
Ganassi, the grand marshal of this year’s race, now has eight wins in 15 Rolex appearances. His teams won six overall titles and now have two class victories. He’s the only team owner in history to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Rolex and 12 Hours of Sebring.
“It was one of the most nerve-wracking races. It’s your race to lose,” Ganassi said. “It’s one thing not to win the race, it’s another thing to lose a race. It was our race to lose and those are the worst races.”
Ganassi didn’t want to focus on the 200th victory and instead highlighted the effort his team put forth at Daytona.
“We just focus on trying to do the best we can today,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about the (rest).”
In the GT Daytona class, GRT Grasser Racing Team won in a Lamborghini — the first for the manufacturer at the Rolex.
The race was clean and fast, except for the traditional attrition of an endurance race. With only four cautions, the event set a record at 808 laps that bettered the mark of 762 laps sent in 1992. The race also set a record with 2,876.48 miles, breaking the mark of 2,760.960 miles in 1982.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso made his debut in a major sports car competition but was saddled by a myriad mechanical problems with his United Autosports entry. The Spaniard’s car finished 13th in class and 38th overall, but he raved about his time in the endurance race and said he was leaning “60/40” toward adding the 24 Hours of Le Mans to this year’s schedule.
“I have a positive feeling,” said Alonso, who drove four stints — the length of almost three F1 races. “We had so many issues with the reliability but nevertheless I am happy, it was very good fun.”
Roger Penske’s return to sports car competition was impressive until the typical attrition of the twice-round-the-clock race took its toll on his two Acura entries. Although Penske remained atop the team pit stand for almost the entire 24 hours, one of his cars was knocked out of contention for the victory when Helio Castroneves made contact with Felipe Nasr as Nasr fought to stay on the lead lap. An alternator issue put the other car in the garage.
The Penske team of Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Ricky Taylor, who moved to Team Penske this year after winning the Rolex and IMSA championship last year driving for his father’s team, finished ninth overall. The entry of Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished 10th.
“The race has been amazing,” Penske said. “This is my fishing trip and my golf game.”
Scott Pruett completed the final race of his 50-year career. A five-time Rolex overall winner, Pruett said he’d retire after this race. He carried his weight with his Lexus team behind the wheel, but the car finished ninth in the GTD class.
“It’s been business as usual,” Pruett said of his final race before adding his trademark line: “I’ve got to say ‘Hi’ to my family at home — even though most of them are here.”
Pruett will move into an ambassador role for Lexus, but even at 58 years old, said he’ll be ready to jump in a car if needed this season.
Wayne Taylor Racing had an unusual number of tire problems and retired right after daybreak. Although Continental Tire said teams with issues were being too aggressive and not following parameters set by the manufacturer, a company representative later said only two team issues came from punctured tires. The others have to be addressed, Continental said.
“Based on the issues we had throughout the race and multiple attempts to fix it without a satisfactory result has forced us to withdrawal the car from the race for the safety of our drivers,” team manager Travis Houge said of the team’s inability to defend last year’s overall victory.
With the Taylor entry out of the race and the Penske’s not in contention for the victory, Action Express just needed to make it to the finish and hold off its sister car for the victory. The team of Nasr, Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton finished second as the team and Cadillac went 1-2 overall.
For the winners, Barbosa and Fittipaldi now have three Rolex watches for overall victories while Albuquerque earned his first. Albuquerque and Barbosa also have class victories on their racing resumes. Their No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac led almost the final 10 hours of the race. Fittipaldi is being replaced by Albuquerque as the full-time driver and will only do the four endurance races on the schedule this year.
“At this stage of my career, this win is very sweet,” Fittipaldi said. “I am not sure how many more of these Daytona races I have left, not like Filipe, who probably has 15 more years.”
For the Ganassi entries, it was last year’s winning car that dominated until the final driver change of the race. The No. 67 car was slightly quicker on pit road and it put Briscoe out ahead of Hand. Briscoe and Westbrook won the Rolex for the first times in their careers, but it is the third watch for Dixon. It was fitting that Dixon was part of the team’s 200th victory — he’s the longest tenured driver in Ganassi history.
“Everybody just wants to win. We come here each weekend to win,” said Dixon, winner of 41 races with Ganassi. “There’s no thinking about just finishing, or finishing second. Everyone thrives on the winning culture of this team.”