Action Express Wins TUSC Road America Race; Risi Ferrari Takes GTLM Victory

Action Express drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa won their third race of the inaugural Tudor United Sports Car Championship season and stretched their points lead at the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase from Road America Sunday afternoon.

Action Express’ team’s chief rival, Wayne Taylor Racing, failed to finish after steering failure left driver Jordan Taylor stuffed in the tire barrier ten laps from the finish, stretching AXR’s points lead from three to 16.

“I have no words—what a great result,” Joao Barbosa told Fox Sports 1 just after exiting the cockpit. “The Corvette was awesome. Action Express did a tremendous job to fix the small issue; then the car was super fast. What a good race car they gave us. Great pit stops, and the engine was awesome today. I did my fastest lap just at the end of the race. What a crazy day. And what a great points day.

“Christian drove a fantastic first stint. We had a misunderstanding with the 10 car but you know, sometimes what goes around, comes around—what a great points day!”

The outcome was anything but certain through the first half of the race. Christian Fittipaldi told, “I was having some brake problems that we were able to fix during the first stop. At that point, I didn’t think we were going to be able to finish the race.

“I spoke to the guys on the radio and said it was really, really hard. At one point we pitted just about outside of our window because it was going a little too dangerous. So I started to back off a little bit and go easy on the brake. And then, I got turned around by the 10 car. It was beyond my control and there is only so much I can do on the track. But what saved us was the fact we were able to solve the brake problem when we came into the pits.”

Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing have been somewhat physically contesting the Prototype class lead through the past several races, from Detroit through the Brickyard Grand Prix. The Taylors announced before the race at Road America that they were not pleased with the way Christian Fittipaldi in the #5 AXR car bashed its way into the lead at Indy—or rather, not pleased that the team was not penalized—and would be coming back strong at the next race.

The vigorous competition continued at Road America. Fittipaldi started second in the team’s #5 Coyote-Corvette but surged past pole-sitter Scott Sharp’s #1 ESM HPD ARX-03b-Honda to take the lead as soon as the green flag waved. Ricky Taylor in the #10 WTR Dallara-Corvette, starting fourth, roared past both the #42 Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan of Gustavo Yacaman and Sharp’s HPD to take second, hot on the heels of Fittipaldi.

The pair didn’t get to race for long. On lap four the first of six yellow flags was waved as Scott Mayer in the P-class #78 Starworks Riley-Honda lost the rear end leaving the Carousel and slammed PC pole sitter Duncan Ende in the #09 RSR Oreca.

Fittipaldi and Taylor resumed their battle on lap nine, but didn’t even complete the circuit before another yellow flag waved, this time because of debris on the track—some of the front bodywork from the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche ended up sitting in Turn 13. Just before the yellow waved, Dominic Farnbacher in the #93 GTLM SRT Viper spun the #54 PC Core Autosport Oreca; neither car was damaged or penalized.

Clean-up was quick and on lap 11 Fittipaldi and Taylor were back at it, but Fittipaldi was having braking problems which gave Taylor a chance to stick his nose inside the AXR car in Turn Two on lap 19. Taylor got halfway past Fittipaldi, who tried to hold his line, but Taylor pressed on and spun the AXR car, taking the lead as Fittipaldi dropped back to fourth. Taylor was not penalized; possibly TUSC officials figured that after they let Fittipaldi bash his way to the lead at Indy, they couldn’t call Taylor for doing the same at Road America.

Taylor pitted under yellow on lap 23, giving up the lead to Scott Sharp and the driver’s seat to his brother Jordan. The caution flag came out because the #81 GTD GB Autosport Porsche buried itself in the gravel outside Canada Corner—driver Ben barker might have been distracted by the #93 Viper and #52 PR1/Mathiasen PC Oreca, which were passing it on the inside.

This caution proved to be a huge break for Scott sharp in the #1 ESM HPD. Sharp had headed for the pits moments before the yellow flag waved, which allowed him to finish his stop and rejoin the race in the lead, while the rest of the field had to wait a lap to pit.

Memo Rojas stayed in the #01 Ganassi Riley-Ford Ecoboost while most teams swapped drivers, which made the #01 quickest out of the pits.

Sharp didn’t hold the lead for long. His P2, with hard tires and 450 horsepower and hard tires, had no chance to hold off Rojas, whose Ford Ecoboost puts out close to 600 bhp running on tires designed specifically for the Riley’s Daytona Prototype chassis. Rojas stormed right past Sharp, followed by Jordan Taylor in the #10.
Joao Barbosa in the #5 AXR Coyote-Corvette was stuck in seventh. On the up side, the team had managed to get the brakes working properly.

Barbosa managed to work his way up to fourth by lap 37, when the caution flags waved for the fourth time, this time because David Ostella in the #38 PC Performance Tech Oreca pushed Colin Braun’s #54 PC into the gravel, tearing off the entire front clip and ruining the front suspension. Ostella was given a stop-plus-60-seconds penalty.

Barbosa opted to pit for fuel under caution, as did several other P-class drivers. This strategy maneuver ended up no making a difference, as there more cautions to come.

WTR Struck Down

The green flag waved again on lap 43—and the yellow again on lap 44. Johannes Van Overbeek in the #2 ESM HPD got too close to Olivier Pla in the #42 Oak Morgan-Nissan, who had to lift because of GT traffic ahead. Van Overbeek slammed Pla, sending him spinning into the wall and stopping the race again. This incident unfortunately ended any hope Oak Racing had for contesting the championship. For some reason Van Overbeek was not penalized.

Road America is a classic North American road course: very pretty, and very fast. (Halston Pitman/MotorSportsMedia)

Most of the leaders chose to pit under this caution, leaving Jordan Taylor, who had passed Rojas seconds before the caution, in the lead and owing a pit stop, with Barbosa right behind him. Then fate struck. While Taylor was sawing the wheel to keep the front tires clean, the steering broke, sending his Dallara-Corvette hard into the bridge abutment at the entry to the Carousel. Taylor was unhurt, but his race was done; no finish, no points.

Taylor’s mechanical failure left Joao Barbosa in the lead again, with Ryan Dalziel, who had replaced Scott Sharp in the #1 ESM HPD behind him, while behind Dalziel was Michael Shank Racing driver Oz Negri in the #60 Riley-Ford Ecoboost. MSR had had no luck all season; finally, by luck, speed, and smart strategy the team had a chance for a podium finish.

When the green flag waved on lap 52, Barbosa predictably roared away, but Dalziel managed to hold off Negri and hang on to second. If the race ran green to the finish, Dalziel had a chance for a podium finish himself.

No such luck. After only two laps of racing, Christopher Haase in the #48 GTD Miller racing Audi went too hot into Turn One and ended up deep in the gravel. It took the safety crew three laps to extricate the beached Audi; the race went green with just over nine minutes left on the clock.

This time Negri was just too strong for Dalziel; Dalziel was as fast or faster, but his P2 chassis simply couldn’t keep up with a Daytona Prototype on a restart.

Dalziel stayed right on Negri’s wing for the next six laps but had no chance to pass. Barbosa took the checkered flag on lap 61, two seconds clear of Negri, who was four-tenths and of Dalziel. It was the third win of the season for Action Express, and the first podium finish for Michael Shank Racing.

Dalziel, who finished second at Sebring, will not be driving at the Lone Star Le Mans. The team is so far behind in the points, it decided instead to enter the #1 car in the World Endurance Championship race which runs immediately after the TUSC race at Circuit of the Americas.

Renger van der Zande drives the #8 Starworks PC Oreca-Chevrolet to its second win of the season. (Halston Pitman/MotorSportsMedia)

Starworks Takes the PC Class Victory

Renger van der Zande and Mirco Schultis in the #8 Starworks PC Oreca-Chevrolet took their second win of the season, beating the Luis Diaz and Sean Rayhall in #25 8Star Oreca by only four-tenths of a second.

Fans might complain about the number of accidents PC cars cause, but the class also produces some good racing.

Van der Zande, Rayhall, and Gunnar Jeannette in the #51 PR1/Mathiasen Oreca all left their pits together under the lap 37 caution. Rayhall and van der Zande reached the end of pit road side by side; they couldn’t pass, but they didn’t need to give way, either. The pair rubbed and bumped until they crossed the blend line, where van der Zande managed to edge ahead.

The Starworks driver never lost the lead; he stayed ahead on track, and his crew kept him ahead when he pitted. Sean Rayhall stayed right on his wing throughout the rest of the race, but van der Zande didn’t make even the slightest error, earning himself the win.

After the race, van der Zande gave credit for the win to his co-driver and his crew. “It was all done in the beginning.” the Dutch driver explained to Fox Sports 1. “Mirco did a great job; he put it in second in the first stint. It remained in that position a long way. Different strategy dropped us back a little bit but after that, the team called me in for the pit stop from third position and I came out first! A great job by Starworks—I love my team. They really did it this time. After that for me it was all about controlling the race.

“I am really happy—I am really happy for the team it’s our second win of the season—you won’t hear me complain.”

Risi Competizione drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer earned the veteran team its first GTLM win and its first win since 2011. (Halston Pitman/MotorSportsMedia)

Risi Returns to Victory Lane

Risi Ferrari was once a mainstay in top-tier GT racing, the de facto Ferrari factory team in the American Le Mans Series. After missing some time while the team restructured, the team returned to TUSC, but spent most of the season back in the pack.

TUSC made several Balance of Performance adjustments before the Brickyard Grand Prix; Ferrari benefited by losing 30 kilograms, and gaining bigger restrictors and a higher rear wing. Even with these adjustments the #62 GTLM Ferrari 458 only qualified ninth in class, but once the race started, drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer showed what the car could do.

Strategy, not speed, got the car to the head of the pack. Risi called in Fisichella to top off the fuel during the second caution on lap nine, which meant that when the GTLM leaders pitted for full-service stops on lap 22, the #62 needed less fuel and got out ahead of the pack.

Pierre Kaffer took over from Fisichella on lap 22 and spent the rest of the race in battles with Dirk Mueller’s #56 BMW Z4 GTE. Richard Lietz in the #911 Porsche North America RSR kept the pressure on Mueller for much of the race; then Michael Christensen in the #911 Porsche NA RSR took up the chase. Finally Jonathan Bomarito in the #93 SRT Viper moved in on Mueller, pushing him hard right up until the final lap.

With Mueller busy defending second, the Risi Ferrari managed to hold a second-and-a-half gap over the BMW. Bomarito never let up, crossing the finish line only eight-hundredths of a second behind Mueller.

This was the kind of racing which earned this class, GT2, then GTE, and now called GTLM, the reputation for being the best GT racing on the planet, and which earned Risi a place in the GT pantheon. The win was the first for Risi Competizione since 2011. It is good to see the team back on track.

“The major key today was the whole Risi Competizione crew—they did an awesome job today,” Pierre Kaffer told Fox Sports1. “We practiced pit stops so many times and today everything came together and I think that was the key.

“I am really happy. My thanks to Giuseppe [Risi, team owner] he was really patient to stay in this category and also to Giancarlo [Fisichella,] he also did a fantastic job in the beginning.”

Marcus Palttala and Dane Cameron in the #94 Turner Motorsports BMW Z4 led the GTD field throughout the race. (Halston Pitman/MotorSportsMedia)

Turner Takes Third GTD Win

GT-Daytona was the least competitive class at Road America; Turner Motorsports drivers Marcus Palttala and Dane Cameron in the #94 BMW Z4 won by a whopping two seconds over points leaders Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil in the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche, which was over a second ahead of the #58 Snow Racing Porsche of Madison Snow and Jan Heylen.

Heylen was harried the whole way home by Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #33 SRT Viper, which missed the podium by only six-tenths of a second. This pair went hard right up to the finish line, with Bleekemolen trying an outside pass and Heylen running the Viper right off the track to keep third.

The Turner BMW led the whole way, aided by some clever strategy; late in the race the team opted to take only right-side tires, which got the car out of the pits quicker than the competition. Since most of the left-hand turns at Road America aren’t really quick, the right-side tires don’t take a tough a berating. This call kept the Turner Z4 out front, which, as Dane Cameron explained to Fox, was an absolute necessity.

“It was pretty tough even though we were out front most of the time,” said Cameron. “We had to be there. We had to keep ourselves out in front keep ourselves in the game because of being so far down on top end.

“There was no way we were going to overtake anybody, so if we lost a single spot we were never going to get it back. The name of the game was to stay out front all day. We took those tow right-side tires, which was the perfect call—it made sure we got out with a bit of a gap, and we were able to play the traffic just right.”

Class Titles in Play

With three races left on the schedule, three of the four TUSC classes are too close to call, while the fourth is still far from decided.

Thanks to WTR’s mechanical failure, Action Express drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa now lead the prototype class by 16 points over the Taylor brothers.

The #3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen maintain their lead in GTLM with 245 points, only eight points ahead of the #93 SRT Viper of Kumo Wittmer and two more in front of teammate Jonathan Bomarito.

Despite bad luck today, Core Autosport’s Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead in PC with 245 points; Renger van der Zande in the #7 Starworks Oreca trails by 35.

Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell in the #555 Aim Autosport Ferrari lead in GTD with 220 points, but Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen in the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche are only three points behind.

The Tudor United Sports Car Series heads to Virginia International Raceway for the Oak Tree Grand Prix on August 24. Tickets can be purchased online through the VIR website.

The Prototype class will not participate at VIR; only the PC, GTLM, and GTD classes will compete.

The next race for the full TUSC field of four classes will be the Lone Star Le Mans from the Circuit of the Americas on September 20, where the race will precede the World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas, making for an awesome day of sports-car competition.

Tickets to the Lone Star Le Mans are available through the CotA website.