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Sunday, January 26, 2014
Action Express wins Rolex 24 news services

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.

From left: Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais of the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP celebrate on the podium after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

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 as 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."

The Wayne Taylor Racing team
The Wayne Taylor Racing team -- Wayne Taylor, sons Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli -- take a group photo to celebrate their second-place finish in the Rolex 24 of Daytona.

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 as 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 initially went to Flying Lizard Motorsports when IMSA officials penalized Level 5 Motorsports for avoidable contact on the last lap. Four hours after the race, IMSA reversed the call.

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 got the victory.

The penalty made Flying Lizard the winner of the fourth-tier class in United SportsCar Championship, and the team celebrated in Victory Lane and its four drivers collected their prize Rolex watches.

Level 5's drivers and team personnel charged toward Victory Lane celebration to argue its case.

"If you look on the monitors, there was no contact," driver Townsend Bell said. "I'm gutted for (Pier Guidi) and the team. I think the fans want an answer for how a call comes in like that. I feel like we deserve this one."

But Flying Lizard driver Spencer Pumpelly was adamant teammate Winkelhock was in the right and IMSA made the correct call.

"Let's just be very clear: The guy tried to win the race by driving Markus off the road when it was Markus's turn to drive and try to pass," Pumpelly said. "We raced that car clean as could be all day, never once left him less than a car width and an inch that I think is the fair way to go."

Level 5 argued no contact was made between the cars -- a claim video replays supported.

"We came to the conclusion that ... it was a racing incident, one that was not deemed a penalty," said Scot Elkins, vice president of competition and technical regulations for IMSA.

Ferrari drivers Bill Sweedler, Bell, Jeff Segal and Pier Guidi -- who was behind the wheel on the final lap -- remained at the track during the review and were on hand to get their watches after the lengthy delay.

"It's bittersweet that we weren't part of the podium ceremony, but frankly it is exciting that IMSA really took a look at what actually happened, which was incredible racing in the last five minutes of this race," Sweedler said. "While it's bittersweet we weren't there, the fact is the winning team is now declared the winner. I think that's the right thing that needs to happen."

It was the second time during the season's opening weekend that IMSA disqualified the winner.

Shelby Blackstock and Ashley Freiberg were awarded the win in Friday's IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge when race officials disqualified Turner Motorsports for a technical infraction in post-race inspection.

Turner Motorsport's No. 96 driven by Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana had originally been scored the winner, with the Fall-Line Motorsports team co-driven by Blackstock and Freiberg finishing second until the final results were overturned.

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.

Malucelli's team, Risi Competizione, announced after the race that Malucelli has been released from Halifax Health and will return home to Italy tomorrow.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.