Against all odds, Christian Fittipaldi, João Barbosa and Sébastien Bourdais delivered a clutch performance amidst horrendous weather conditions to deliver the second consecutive championship sweep for Action Express Racing. The triumvirate laid claim to a second crown jewel victory in the 2015 season on Saturday night, winning the 18th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Action Express Racing finished the season first and third in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran claiming two overall wins in their first season co-driving the Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype with the team. Earlier in the race Fittipaldi and Barbosa clinched the North American Endurance Championship for the team for the second consecutive year.
The Mustang Corvette DP and the Whelen Engineering Corvette DP came into the season finale tied for second and trailing the Tudor season championship leader Visit Florida Corvette DP team by six points. Understanding the importance of winning one of the most difficult endurance races in the world, the North Carolina based team held steadfast to team manager Gary Nelson’s ‘Expect to Win’ motto and rose to the occasion, claiming the team’s fourth victory of 2015 and repeating a complete championship sweep.
“This was a team win in every way possible,” said Nelson. “Throughout the race both of our cars were in position to win the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and that’s a testament to everyone who works at Action Express Racing. We had a major challenge entering the race but as a team we kept our heads down and did all of the small things which in-turn add up to the big thing and that was winning the race and both championships.”
Complicating an already challenging event were periods of torrential downpours, at one point resulting in a one hour and four minute red flag condition. Ultimately, Mother Nature would have the final say as the scheduled ten-hour event was ended at 7:51:12. With the extreme weather and the known potential of having the race conclude prior to the scheduled distance, Action Express Racing put their two Corvette DPs on opposite strategies to claim the victory and the championship.
“We knew from the drivers briefing that the potential existed to have a rain shortened event,” said Nelson. “Understanding that our team was able to pit the Mustang Sampling Corvette DP and the Whelen Engineering Corvette DP at opposite times to keep the lead in the event. You didn’t know when the race was going to stop but we wanted to protect our seat at the head table and thankfully our plan worked out.”
For Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Christian Fittipaldi the championship sweep was a major accomplishment in an already storied racing career. As for winning the title in a more dramatic fashion this season versus the win-by-starting the 2014 finale, Fittipaldi said he preferred as little drama as possible.
“Obviously winning the championship the way we did was very exciting for the fans and for the series,” said Fittipaldi. “But to tell you the truth, I preferred the way we did it last year. The competition was much stronger this season and we had what we had for the championship fight. It was great to deliver the championship for Mustang Sampling, Chevrolet, ECR engines, EMCO transmissions and everyone who works so hard at the shop and track to give us incredible race cars.”
Fittipaldi’s teammate João Barbosa reflected on the season and the challenge the team faced enroute to the triumph.
“We had another great season,” said Barbosa. “As a team we won four races, two for the Mustang Sampling Corvette DP and two for the Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. It was great having a second car full-time this season with Dane and Eric; they’ve helped to elevate the program because they are both championship caliber drivers and I imagine that Christian and I will be racing them down the wire again next season. It’s very exciting to complete another championship sweep. Thanks to TUDOR, Tequila Patrón, Continental Tire and all of the sponsors who support IMSA.”
While narrowly missing out on their own championship triumph due to the time in which the race was called complete, Eric Curran and Dane Cameron made a statement in their first season together with Action Express Racing. The duo claimed victory in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, then lead the way for an Action Express Racing 1-2 sweep at Road America in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.
“We had a great season in our No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP,” said driver Eric Curran. “Winning two races and challenge for the championship all the way to the closing minutes of the season was a major accomplishment for Dane and myself in our first season with Action Express Racing. This was a completely new group at the beginning of the season and we just grew together throughout the year. We’re already counting down to Daytona and ready to get out of the box strong and go for the championship again next season.
“We couldn’t have done this without Sonny Whelen. Sonny has done so much for my career and he does so much to support racing all over the world. This was a great season, but the best is yet to come. I couldn’t be any happier to be part of Whelen Engineering and Action Express Racing.”
Curran’s co-driver Dane Cameron entered the season as the 2014 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar reigning GTD champion. While he didn’t add another TUDOR timepiece to his collection, he became the winningest driver in the TUDOR Era with his seventh class win coming at Road America.
“Hats off to everyone at Action Express Racing,” said Cameron. “Obviously we wanted to win the championship, but this was an amazing year when you consider everything that we accomplished as a group on the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. We were all new to each other at the beginning of the season, and throughout the season we continued to get stronger.
“Our season hit a major upswing when we got to Detroit. We scored that first victory and at that point we knew we could win more races and challenge for the championship. Our pit stops were phenomenal, I would say the best stops on pit road for the entire second half of the season came from our Whelen Engineering crew guys and that was a major factor in our victories. We have all the pieces to be seated at the head table next October and hopefully that’s where we’ll be.”
After a second consecutive championship sweep, team owner Bob Johnson reflected on the growth of Action Express Racing as an organization.
“When we came out of the box at Daytona in 2010 and won the Rolex 24 in our first ever event, I figured this was going to be easy,” said Johnson. “As I soon found out, racing is a difficult business and getting to the top was no easy task. Staying on top proved to be even more difficult this season as we faced some of the best competition sports car racing has ever seen.
“We were extremely fortunate to have two great companies join our team this season with Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering. Ken and Brenda Thompson wanted to be involved in racing and we were tremendously honored when they chose our team. We were equally honored when Sonny Whelen bestowed upon us his iconic red and white Whelen Engineering colors which have become synonymous with racing over the years. Throughout the season Ken and Brenda and Sonny and Christine became way more than sponsors, they became part of the family and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In completing a second championship sweep, Action Express Racing and ECR delivered another engine manufacturers championship to Chevrolet. The team delivered four of the eight Corvette DP victories in the 2015 season. Those victories and consistency throughout the campaign also secured a second consecutive chassis constructors’ championship for Coyote Production Management.
João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Action Express Racing will be presented with the season honors at the second annual TUDOR Night of Champions on Monday, October 5 at the Georgia Aquarium.
Source. Hi-Rev Racing