Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi each claimed their third overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and first since 2014, when they teamed with Sebastien Bourdais to win in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. Barbosa also earned a GTS class victory in the 2003 Rolex 24, while Filipe Albuquerque added an overall victory to a 2013 GT class win in the Rolex 24.
“I think it’s huge,” said Brazilian driver Fittipaldi, who also won the Rolex 24 overall in 2004 and 2014. “Especially after what happened last year. It went the way it went, but obviously we didn’t swallow it that easily. It has been in our throat for 365 days. I remember going into the press conference and sort of mentioning, ‘Now, I have to wait another 365 days for a shot at it,’ and this is what we did.”
As Fittipaldi referenced, the win avenges the No. 5 team’s bitter defeat in the 2017 race, when late-race contact between Ricky Taylor and Albuquerque while battling for the lead in the final minutes of the race forced Albuquerque to spin and sent Taylor and his teammates, Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon to victory lane.
“I think it’s one of those things that we start to think that the world is kind of fair in a way,” said Albuquerque, who along with Barbosa, hails from Portugal. “Last year, I lost it for very little in a controversial way, and this year, the engine was dying on us, or having problems, for six hours.
“Somehow, I don’t know how to be honest, it lasted with very high temperatures and we got the win. A lot of people thought that, ‘OK, we are candidates,’ but so many other ones are candidates. We did a remarkable race.”
The No. 5 took the lead for the final time during the race’s 16th hour and went on to win over its Action Express Racing team car, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R – co-driven by Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton – by a margin of 1 minute, 10.544 seconds.
“There was a lot of drama behind closed doors that a lot of people didn’t really see,” said Barbosa, whose other two overall victories came in 2010 and 2014. “We had an issue, actually, on both cars that they were overheating. I was very surprised by so few yellows. The race pace was very, very high for the whole 24 hours, no rest at all. We were able to put some water in the car during one of those times under yellow and it didn’t really cost us any time.
“Unfortunately, the 31 had to do it under green and that put them back a couple of laps. The team was managing the situation in the best possible way, hoping that everything would be OK. Just a tremendous job from the Mustang Sampling Cadillac crew. They really put their heads together and they definitely are a big part of this win today.”
The No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA LMP2 car shared by Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Loic Duval and Romain Dumas finished third and won Rolex watches for winning the Trueman Pro-Am Team Endurance class. The No. 54 machine also completed the full 808-lap distance.
Finishing fourth, four laps behind the winner, was the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 car shared by Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Paul Di Rest and Bruno Senna. Rounding out the top five was the No. 78 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA ORECA LMP2 with co-drivers Ho-Pin Tung, Alex Brundle, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen and Antonio Felix da Costa.
Chip Ganassi gave the starting command for the weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday and a day later hoisted a trophy in victory lane courtesy of a phenomenal performance and GT Le Mans (GTLM) class sweep for his two-car team in the historical race. His cars led all but nine of the 783 laps completed.
It was a nice bookend for the championship team owner and good way to start the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing season – giving Ganassi his 200th victory in major league auto racing. It the team’s record eighth win in the Rolex 24 – the second straight in class, plus six more victories overall.
Ganassi’s No. 67 Ford GT driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and former Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon led its team car, the No. 66 Ford GT, across the finish line for the victory by only 11.180 seconds.
The third-place No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R finished two laps behind the Fords. And it all made for exciting close-quarter racing during the record-setting event won overall by the No. 5 Action Express Racing Cadillac.
“No team orders, just 24 hours of intense racing,’’ Ganassi driver Westbrook told FOX Sports television with a huge grin as the pits emptied in celebration.
Dixon, who has two overall victories in addition to Sunday’s class win, summed up his feelings with a smile as well. “Pretty sweet,’’ he said.
It was also pretty intense – especially in the final couple hours.
The defending Rolex 24 GTLM class champion No. 66 – driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais – led the bulk of the race and was listed as the lead class car for 21 of the first 24 hourly results.
But a pit stop for the final driver change – Bourdais to Hand — took a few seconds longer than normal with a slight hiccup getting the car from neutral into first gear. That was enough to give the team’s other car the opportunity to seize the advantage and change the competitive dynamic on track.
The cars were so close for so long, that pit strategy may have ultimately decided the running order.
And as each Ganassi driver confirmed following the race, there were no team orders.
“There was a little bit of strategy playing out between the two teams which was really cool – just to witness the whole thing,’’ said Westbrook, who earned his first Rolex watch.
“Everyone was trying to outsmart one another. We chose to short-fill and they put me out on a nice clean track with new tires, I was able to push and had a nice clean out-lap and built up a lead. That sort of took the pressure off.
“They tried to react to that and do the short-fill next time as you obviously would, but by that point we were on the front and had pretty much sewn it up by then.’’
Hand, a defending winner of the race, was happy for the Ganassi team although also understandably disappointed as he stood on pit lane following the checkered flag.
“You always want to be the one that wins for the team but man, we still had a great day,’’ Hand said. “The car led a lot of this race and as far as the team goes we’ve got two cars and finished and first and second. You can’t do better than that.
“For Chip Ganassi and Ford Racing, it was a great day and this Ford GT ran flawlessly.
“I’m definitely bummed because I thought we had a good car all day and then had our worst car at the end, unfortunately. The 67 car was really good at the end and we were really good at the beginning.”
Everyone on the Ganassi team agreed that keeping the trophy in-house was a tremendous accomplishment and shows how well Ganassi leads the team. It was an exciting and challenging race – just the kind of day, just the kind of important race that makes earning a 200th trophy here extra special.
“It’s simple,’’ Dixon said. “We come here each weekend to win. There’s no thinking about finishing second. Everyone thrives on the winning culture here. Chip, through many [racing] disciplines has proven that.’’
And as historic as the win was, Ganassi reminded everyone after spraying champagne and hoisting hardware that he isn’t ready to talk about 200 wins yet. He’s ready to collect more.
“We’re just the type of team, as [Team Manager] Mike Hull says ‘Let’s try to do the best job we can do today. What can we do about what’s in front of us today?’
“That’s how we approach things. Today’s win is about here at Daytona, about the Rolex, about these three guys up here.”
And, he added, “I think in terms of the 200 wins, there’s a time and place to talk about that. We’re the kind of team, we just focus on trying to do the best we can today.’’
Lamborghini Secures First Ever Rolex 24 Victory with GRT
Austria-based Grasser Racing Team (GRT) bested the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) field at the 56th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to deliver the manufacturer’s first ever victory in the prestigious twice-around-the-clock event.
Mirko Bortolotti, the 2017 Blancpain GT Series champion, led the final 52 laps to secure the first WeatherTech Championship victory for GRT and its entire driver lineup as well, completed by Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera and Rik Breukers.
Bortolotti previously caught the eyes of other GTD competitors when he posted the fastest lap during Roar Before the Rolex 24 qualifying earlier this month to secure premium garage and pit spaces for the No. 11 for this weekend’s race. However, due to a qualifying penalty, the team started the race last on the grid.
GRT’s first race of IMSA competition came one year ago at the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and while Bortolotti and Ineichen were a part of the team’s driver lineup then, this was the first WeatherTech Championship start for Perera and Breukers.
“It’s a big day for us, definitely,” said Bortolotti. “Coming from the back of the field, makes it even more special, I guess. I don’t know if this happened before but I don’t care ‑‑ coming from last position, winning such an important race, it’s great. Just so proud of everyone, of the whole team, and Lamborghini obviously. We’ve been working so hard to make this happen.
“Personally, I just ‑‑ quite speechless about this. It’s really a big thing, big day. I’m really happy. I want to say thanks to everyone, also to the fans for coming down here for this race, the atmosphere in Daytona is always mega. It’s even more special to win this race.”
“It’s a great success what we tried many times before to win a 24‑hour race for Lamborghini but we were not successful,” added Ineichen. “Now we are in Daytona. This is special. It’s really, really special. It’s a big dream, I think, of everybody to win here in Daytona. We did it now. We did it for Lamborghini, and we’re really proud on that.”
The No. 11 Lamborghini crossed the finish line 16.806 seconds ahead of Michael Shank Racing’s No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 of Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge, Trent Hindman and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner AJ Allmendinger, which ran in the top five for the majority of the race and led a total of 51 laps of the race’s 752.
Rounding out the podium was another Lamborghini Huracán GT3, that of Paul Miller Racing with full-time drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow joined by Andrea Caldarelli and Bryce Miller behind the wheel of the No. 48.
And while one team celebrated an inaugural victory, one driver’s storied career came to a close when the checkered flag waved.
Scott Pruett, IMSA’s all-time winningest driver with 60 victories, previously announced that the 2018 Rolex 24 would be his final race as a professional driver. The move was fitting in that Pruett also holds the most class wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona with 10, with the next closest set of drivers owning five.
Pruett shared the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus R CF GT3 with Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher and claimed a ninth-place finish in the class.
“I’m not leaving, but I certainly am going to open up a new chapter,” Pruett said. “And I think last night I did all my driving, the majority of my driving was from about 8:00 last night to about 7:00 this morning, with maybe one or two out‑of‑the‑cars in between. So, I’ll remember the darkness of Daytona and certainly all the craziness that happens at nighttime, along with a little rain. And those are all great, fond, wonderful memories.”