Drenching rain in the end caused three injuries as cars piled into the tire wall.
DETROIT, Michigan – It’s no surprise that the Action Express Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype won the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at Detroit’s Belle Isle. After all, Action Express is the defending season champion.
But it wasn’t the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring-winning No. 5, but its sister car, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, that took the checkered flag at the Chevrolet Sports Car Classis Presented by the Metro Chevy Dealers by more than 18 seconds over second place.
It’s the first win for the No. 31, which moved under the Action Express umbrella this year after a lackluster 2014 season. It was also the fifth different Prototype winner in five races.
It was almost an Action Express one-two, but Joao Barbosa, who shares the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette with polesitter Christian Fittipaldi, spun on the very last lap as hard rain began to fall, and the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 of John Pew and Oswaldo Negri got by for second. Barbosa recovered for third. Finishing fourth was Joey Hand and Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley.
“It was good hard racing all the way through,” said Cameron, who has seven victories, but none in the Prototype class until today. The on-and-off rain, which really began to fall at the end of the race, made the track unpredictable. “One corner would be wet,” Cameron said, “and then the next time we’d come through, it would be dry. We had no idea what to expect.”
In fact, four GT-Daytona cars piled into the tire barrier just past the checkered flag, when the rain was falling hardest. Jan Heylen, driver of the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Brumos Porsche 911 GT America, was treated in the infield care center, as was one track worker. Another track worker was taken to the hospital. No further information was available.
In Prototype Challenge, the No. 8 Starworks Motorsports Chevrolet-powered Oreca FLM09 survived a lot of carnage in the class, but drivers Renger van der Zande and Mirco Schultis kept cool heads. Second was the No. 85 JDC/Miller car of Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikberg. “It was quite slippery out there,” van der Zande said. “I’m very pleased with the result we achieved."
In GT-Daytona, smart pit strategy won the race for the No, 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America. The team pitted just past the 30-minute mark in the 100-minute race, swapping driver Ian James for Mario Farnbacher, who found himself in the lead after the other cars made their pit stop, and managed to hold off the rest of the field, which had fresher tires.
“That was the strategy,” said James, as they thought they could go to the end on fuel. Multiple slow yellow-flag caution laps helped stretch fuel mileage.
Second was James Davison and Christina Nielsen in the TRG-AMR No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage, which had a spirited on-track battle with the polesitting No. 48 Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Castrol Audi R8 LMS of Dion von Moltke and Christopher Haase, which finished third.
Calm start to the race
The first part of the race was uneventful until Ben Keating, in his No. 33 Riley ViperExchange.com Dodge Viper SRT, slapped the tire wall with the left rear of his car, which knocked loose a large portion of his car’s undertray, causing a full-course caution 33 minutes in. The damage apparently was terminal, as Keating, who leaves right after the race to fly to Le Mans for practice, couldn’t coax his car to the pits, and will get an early start on his trip to France.
The caution erased Christian Fittipaldi’s healthy lead over Michael Valiante in the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP.
The top runners dove for the pits for fuel, tires, and in most cases a driver change, with Joao Barbosa taking over for Fittipaldi. It was a very slow stop for the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley as Scott Pruett changed out with Joey Hand, as the crew removed the hood of the car to make adjustments. With rain just north of Detroit and more approaching from the west, some teams readied treaded rain tires.
When the race restarted with 46 minutes to go, it was Barbosa, Richard Westbrook in the No. 90, and Jordan Taylor in the No. 10. In Prototype Challenge, James Vance was out front in the No. 38, and in GTD, Mario Farnbacher was in the lead in the No. 23 Porsche, thanks to an earlier pit stop done before the caution flag flew. In second was Townsend Bell in the No. 63 Ferrari – Bell is another driver who will jet off to Le Mans after the race for practice, and he also ran in the Indianapolis 500 where he finished 14th.
Taylor goes to lead
At the restart, Jordan Taylor – still another driver headed to Le Mans, who shares the Konica Minolta Corvette DP with brother Ricky – passed Barbosa, as rain began to fall on parts of the 2.35-mile track. A yellow flag fell again at the 44-minute mark for a crash between Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 car, which hit the No. 11 of Bruno Junquiera, which had spun on the damp pavement and made contact with the No. 44 Porsche GTD car of Andy Lally. His Porsche was repaired under the yellow, and though Junqueira managed to limp to the pit, his car was seriously damaged.
The rain stopped while the yellow flag was out, but dropping temperatures suggested more may be coming. The green flag flew again with 33 minutes to go, with Jordan Taylor in the lead, and Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Corvette DP in second, Barbosa in third.
In PC, James Vance remained in the lead, and in GTD, Farnbacher was out front, but with his early pit stop, could he hold off cars with fresher tires?
Up front, with 28 minutes to go, Cameron squeezed the No. 31 Corvette DP past Taylor in the No. 10, and began to stretch out a lead. Cameron’s Action Express team car, the No. 5 of Barbosa, was pressuring Taylor for second.
With 23 minutes left, Richard Westbrook spun the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP, but got it going without causing a yellow flag, but he dropped from fourth to sixth. Meanwhile, in GTD, it was getting physical among the front-runners, with contact between the No. 007 Aston Martin of James Davison, and the polesitting No. 48 Audi, driven by Christopher Haase.
With 16 minutes to go, Townsend Bell smacked the wall in the No. 63 Ferrari, bringing out a full-course caution as he tried to drive the crippled, smoking car back to the pits. He was being overtaken by the faster No. 10 DP of Jordan Taylor, who dove into the turn, surprising Bell, who thought he had the line. Bell stopped the Ferrari on track with severe damage to the rear.
Racing resumed with just over nine minutes left, with light rain falling on parts of the track. Second-place Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 was assessed a drive-through penalty for contact with Bell, leaving the car in seventh, which is where it finished.
With Taylor out of contention, it became a race between the two Action Express cars, with Barbosa chasing Cameron.
On the last lap, as Barbosa was a half-second behind his teammate, he spun on the damp pavement, and though he got it going again, he dropped to third behind the No. 60, as the awaited storm finally arrived with a vengeance.
Next up for the TUDOR SportsCar Championship: Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International, on June 26-28.