IMSA • February 06, 2015
Score Podium Finish and Top Five in Class in 2015 Season-Opening Rolex 24 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 26, 2015) -Action Express Racing never stopped performing like a winning organization in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, even as both of their teams faced early setbacks in the 24-hour race. Following four strong practice sessions and impressive starting positions, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype and the No. 31 Whelen/Team Fox Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype both were forced to visit the garage early in the event, both going multiple laps down during repairs. However, both teams returned to the track faster and more determined than ever, completing the endurance race with two top-five finishes in the Prototype class. While the No. 31 Whelen/Team Fox fought back from the 51st position to finish fifth in class, the No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette drivers raced their way back onto the lead lap and into the second position, earning Mustang Sampling their first podium finish as a TUDOR United SportsCar Championship sponsor.
Action Express Racing arrived at Daytona International Speedway with team manager Gary Nelson’s ’Expect to Win’ attitude, with both of their Corvette DP displaying strong performances in all testing and practice sessions leading up to qualifying. The Whelen/Team Fox DP lineup of Max Papis, Eric Curran, Dane Cameron and Phil Keen had instant driver chemistry, and Papis earned the No. 31 Chevrolet a ninth-place starting berth.
Max Papis had begun facing power steering issues, dropping him as low as 29th before working his way up to 20th before the caution. The Whelen/Team Fox Corvette returned to pit road under yellow to check on the steering at the urging of Papis, who stated "We have to stop and fix this now if we want to finish." The team went to work troubleshooting the problem, but they were forced into the garage under green on lap 41 to change a steering rack. Despite a fast change, the team had dropped to 51st of 53 cars by the time they returned to the track 17 laps down.
Once back on track, the drivers of Papis, Curran, Cameron and Keen each impressively displayed their skills while running lap times consistent with the leaders, utilizing the remaining 22 hours to fight their way through the field and navigate around their competitors. Writing on the team’s information board ’Refuse to lose,’ both drivers and crew alike maintained the attitude throughout the remainder of the race. The Whelen/Team Fox machine broke back into the top-25 on lap 322 with Papis behind the wheel, and finally re-entered the top 10 on lap 550 with Keen at the helm. Curran gained the team another three positions in his final stint before Keen finally brought home the No. 31 in the seventh position, fifth in the Prototype class.
After the conclusion of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, IMSA discovered a maximum drive time violation with the No. 10 Corvette DP. The penalty moved the No. 31 Whelen/Team Fox Corvette from fifth to fourth place in the prototype class.
"The No. 31 team showed resilience today; we were amazing. We had a lot of speed in the car and we overcame the steering box issues that we had in the beginning. We never gave up; we wrote on the board ’Refuse to lose.’ That’s the kind of attitude this team has. We still accomplished our goal, which was finishing in the top five for our class. The car definitely deserved a podium finish, but this race was a great beginning to the adventure with Sonny Whelen, I want to thank everyone on the team, because today proved that this top-five finish might not be a lot for some, but it was a lot for us because it proved that we didn’t give up. Our attitude when we were many laps down was the same of those who were leading. You can’t buy this kind of attitude. Gary Nelson has built a great team of people with the same attitude. We will go far this year."
"I’m extremely happy with a fifth-place finish. We had some power steering issues early in the race with Max behind the wheel, but these Action Express Racing guys just nailed it. They got the car in and they got it fixed quickly. We gained a little bit, we lost a little bit, but in the end, we were as fast as the leaders all race long. My teammates Phil, Dane and Max all did a great job. I need to thank Sonny Whelen and Whelen Engineering for all their support. This was a big points day for Dane and I moving forward to Sebring. It’s going to be a good year and I’m pumped for the rest of the season."
"I think overall, we should be really pleased. Our goal was to be a top-five Prototype and we achieved that. We had the issue right away that put us down, but it’s nice to know that if that hadn’t happened, we would have been right there contending in the end. It was a great first race to get everybody in the groove and get everybody working together. Everyone was comfortable in the car and working really well together. I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to and a great start on points for the season."
"The team is fantastic; Action Express Racing has been brilliant to work with. They made me feel really at home and welcome. It’s a shame we lost 17 laps at the start, but I think apart from that, the team and everything ran flawlessly, so a big ’thank you’ to everyone involved. Thank you to Sonny Whelen and Sunoco and the team for making all of this happen."
Following the close of the 24-hour race, team manager Gary Nelson commented on Action Express Racing’s ability to troubleshoot and execute in the longest race of the season. "We have disaster plans for the team," said Nelson. "I always say that if you just keep the wheels turning, good things can happen. If you are not moving, you can’t possibly be successful racing. We just kept the wheels turning."
"I am so proud of this team’s effort," said team owner Bob Johnson. "We’ve been preparing for this race since before last season ended; there are thousands of hours of work that went into our racecars this weekend. I think it says a lot about this team’s integrity and competitiveness to be disappointed with second place, but that’s the kind of team we are. We expect to win and we did everything necessary to do so this weekend."
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