Action Express Racing’s conservative plan paid huge dividends in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season finale as the Denver-based team walked off with its second straight Daytona Prototype title.
Held in adverse weather conditions the weekend Hurricane Joaquin brought historic rainfall to the region, the 10-hour Petit Le Mans was shortened by two hours because conditions included streams of water running across the track.
“My whole career (in NASCAR) we didn’t race in the rain,” said team manager Gary Nelson, a Concord resident. “With the knowledge that I didn’t know as much (about racing in the rain) as others that we were trying to beat on the race track, the way I approached it was make every decision as conservative as you can. Don’t take any risks.
“We took the same approach with our instructions to our drivers. The only way that we’re going be able to get this championship would be to have one of our cars win the race and the only way we’re going to win the race in these conditions is to not mess up. And the best way not to mess up is to be very conservative.”
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Entering the season finale, Action Express Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 car and Eric Curran and Dane Cameron in the No. 31 were tied for second. They trailed drivers Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante of Visit Florida Racing by six points. Fittipaldi and Barbosa, however, led the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup standings by seven points. They secured the Endurance Cup for the second straight year by leading at the four-hour mark in the Petit Le Mans.
However, it didn’t become evident the series championship would be decided between the two Action Express Racing Corvettes until the standings leader lost two laps when Visit Florida Racing’s Corvette veered off the track and became stuck in the mud.
“That was a tough one for me,” Nelson said. “It’s like having your children playing against each other in soccer. You know at the end one of them is going to have a better standing than the other one, but you cheer for both.”
In the race’s latter stages, the two Action Express Racing teams ran first and second. Whichever car won would be the champion and the other one would finish second or third in the point standings. The No. 31 team was leading when it had to pit for fuel. That gave the lead to the No. 5 car and 10 minutes later race officials ended the event.
“They were just 10 minutes apart on fuel,” Nelson noted.
Nelson and the team strategists had altered their approach to the race following the drivers meeting in which various race scenarios were covered. Officials emphasized their goal was to complete all 10 hours of the race, but if conditions continued to deteriorate, they at least wanted to get past halfway. Nelson said that was just enough information for the Action Express team to realize that with two hours remaining and conditions continuing to deteriorate their cars wouldn’t pit as long as they had fuel.
“Typically, you work the race backwards and as soon as you can make it to the end of the race you stop no matter what your fuel load is,” Nelson said. “We changed our strategy to say we were only going to stop when we were out of fuel so we could keep our cars out front as much as possible. (We knew) they could call the race at any time. Fortunately, others that we were racing against were racing the other strategy, which was expecting to go the whole 10 hours.
“I think our approach to be conservative on all decisions kept us out of trouble and our decision to change our strategy to keep a car up front at all times … those two decisions from our drivers and our team strategists are what put us on top.”
Nelson said all of Action Express Racing’s drivers were experienced at racing in the rain, but he felt one key factor that occurred during preparations was that they tested at Road Atlanta in the rain.
“Typically, people don’t test in the rain, they don’t like to practice in the rain and they’re very careful racing in the rain,” Nelson said. “But our approach was, ‘We’re here for testing and it’s raining, let’s just go out and run laps and see what happens.’”
For 2016, Action Express Racing will again field two cars with Fittipaldi and Barbosa returning to the No. 5 car. Curran and Cameron, who finished third in the standings, will again pilot the No. 31. The team has yet to determine the additional drivers needed for the endurance events. The 10-race season opens in 2016 with the Jan. 28-31 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
CARS Title Battles
In the Mooresville-based CARS Tour’s first season, the champions in its late model and super late model series won’t be decided until the final event Nov. 1 at Hickory Motor Speedway. In the late model standings, Belmont’s Myatt Snider leads Deac McCaskill and Brayton Haws by a slim three points. In the super late model standings, Mooresville’s Cole Timm possesses a nine-point advantage over Concord’s Kyle Grissom.
East Lincoln Reschedules FWD Classic
Rain on Oct. 10 forced East Lincoln Speedway officials to move the FWD Classic to the beginning of the 2016 season. Inclement weather the first two Saturdays in October forced the dirt short track to cancel the final two nights of racing in the 2015 schedule.
Speeds atop the standings
Mt. Holly’s Scott Speed possesses the standings lead over Tanner Foust heading into the Red Bull Global Rallycross season finale Nov. 4 at Las Vegas. Sebastian Eriksson, driving for Mooresville-based Olsbergs MSE, is third in the standings, while Huntersville’s Nelson Piquet Jr. is fourth. Rounding out the top five is Ken Block.
In the GRC Lites standings, Mooresville’s Austin Cindric owns a slim three-point advantage over Olsbergs MSE teammate Oliver Eriksson.
GoPro Opens Corporate Event Space
A year after GoPro Motorplex executives announced an expansion of the Mooresville facility, a 2,500-square-foot indoor entertainment space has opened. Groups and corporations may now hold small- or large-scale events at the facility.
Ruggles Goes Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Fourteen-year-old late model driver Jake Ruggles is placing a pink paint scheme on his car this month to promote breast cancer awareness. The Kannapolis resident first started painting his race car pink in October four years ago when his grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time he was racing quarter midgets. He moved to the Allison Legacy Series in 2013 and then advanced to late model racing this year. Ruggles won a limited sportsman race earlier this year at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va.
Deb Williams is a freelance writer: email@example.com.