Action Express just missed out on a podium in the Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Monterey, Calif. (4 May 2014) - In a race that provided the large crowd on hand with some outstanding on track battles, Action Express Racing recovered from contact to emerge from a two-hour sprint to the Continental Tire Grand Prix of Monterey checkered flag with the lead in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship intact.
The contact came early in the race after the team had made assertive progress to move up in the field and in position for a fourth consecutive podium finish. The incident cost the team not only track time, but also overall pace through the rest of the race as Action Express utilized teamwork and strategy to persevere to a fourth-place finish. The team, which earned the Microsoft Visual Studio “Team To Win” honors for the group’s Long Beach race performance, kept the focus on the points on offer as the group rallied to bring home more points toward the 2014 IMSA championship.
When the green flag flew, Fittipaldi opened the race from fifth on the grid at the wheel of the No. 5 Corvette DP and the pack of prototypes all took to Turn 1 with several looking to improve position in the first corner. The No. 5 ended up on the outside of a three-wide run through Turn 1 and the No. 5 sustained minimal contact.
“The No. 01 stuck his nose down the inside and he hit a car on the inside that then hit me and that was pretty much it,” said Fittipaldi of the opening lap. “I tried to be as aggressive as I could but also tried to keep my nose as clean as possible.”
Fittipaldi wasted no time in moving forward as his extensive experience at the California road course was on full display, hitting his marks each lap. A well-timed pass at the entry of the famous 10-story high Corkscrew corner was enough for him to take over fourth place, and just a few laps later moved up to third. Making the most of the mad scramble for the lead, Fittipaldi once again pounced to score the second position just 15 minutes into the race.
The No. 5 Corvette DP settled in close behind the lead car and with 39 minutes completed in the race, the Action Express Racing team called Fittipaldi to pit road for fuel, tires and a driver change. The Action Express crew members performed another flawless pit stop and Barbosa quickly emerged from pit lane and returned to the track still in second position.
Barbosa was poised to take on the leader as he settled into a rhythm, but shortly into his stint the No. 5 machine was sandwiched heading into the Corkscrew as an over ambitious move from a fellow prototype driver saw Barbosa sustain a hard hit to the left side of the No. 5 Corvette DP. The hit was hard enough to push Barbosa into the car that ran along the outside of the No. 5.
Though able to continue, the No. 5 car which had shown so much strength prior to the incident faced an uphill battle as the handling on the machine had deteriorated.
“Driving that car after the hit was very hard,” said Barbosa of the incident. “The right hand turns were very hard to drive and the handling of the car changed quite a bit.”
Despite the ill-handling car, Barbosa chased a solid result and clicked off laps until he was called back to pit lane with 55 minutes remaining. Relying on the long life of the Continental Tires, the team saved time on pit lane with a fuel-only pit stop.
The two-hour event ran caution free, with Barbosa coming home fourth at the checkered flag after managing the fuel and driving a near un-drivable car to come home with another solid finish for the championship-leading team.
“It’s was a really hard race,” said Barbosa. “After I got hit really hard, the car was never the same and on top of that I had to save fuel for the whole race. We really stretched our fuel mileage by a lot. We had a fast enough car to be on the podium today but with saving fuel the whole race it was nearly impossible to do anything else. I was just pacing myself compared to the No. 90 car behind me. The last lap was really tough but we managed to keep fourth place and considering the big hit we got early in the race, we salvaged a fourth place finish and that is what we need to keep doing.”
Team Manager Gary Nelson was pleased with the effort as Action Express Racing maintains its championship goal.
“I’m really proud of the team,” offered Nelson. “We started the race in the fifth position, Christian drove a great opening stint bringing the car into the pits running second and we returned to the track after our first stop still running second. We knew we had the speed and we could pass the top running cars, but then we got hit and it really slowed our car down. But our team just kept pulling and pulling and trying to get everything we could. We knew that if we stopped for fuel late in the race we would finish behind anyone that did not stop. With the car damage taking away our speed we knew passing for position would be very difficult. So we ended up saving fuel because our car was beat up anyway and sure enough we ended up fighting with a car behind us that was also on a two stop race, barely beating him to the checkered flag for fourth place. I’m proud of the guys. When it’s not your day and you still get a top-five, that’s what champions do.”
“The team effort today under adversity shows why Action Express is a true championship team,” added Team Owner Bob Johnson. “Every member of the team made necessary adjustments to keep us in the overall points lead. Joao did an amazing job driving a severely damaged car and Elton (Sawyer) and, Iain (Watt) and Gary (Nelson) had the right strategy to preserve the top-five finish. It was a gutsy call to conserve fuel and stay out but that is what makes this group all true champions.”
Action Express Racing will return to IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship competition May 30-31 in Detroit where the team finished second last year and scored a double podium result in 2012.
Action Express Racing