“They knew we were here” – dignified response from defeated AXR
The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R was narrowly defeated in the torrid scrap for Rolex 24 at Daytona victory, but team manager Gary Nelson says the AXR crew can move onto the Sebring 12 Hours with their heads held high.
It was the second year in succession that the defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Prototype champion squad came up one position short in the Rolex 24, but last year the runner-up finish was assuaged by completing an Action Express Racing 1-2 behind the #5 sister car.
This time, the Whelen Engineering-backed machine, driven by Eric Curran, ex-Formula 1 racer Felipe Nasr and AXR’s newest full-timer Pipo Derani, was one of only four cars – the others being the two Acura Team Penskes and the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac – in the battle for the lead for the majority of the race.
In the worst of the conditions that finally brought the race to an early close, Nasr had just edged ahead of the WTR Caddy piloted by two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso when he skated wide at Turn 1 in treacherous conditions, ceding the lead once more.
When the race went full-course yellow, then was red-flagged and then failed to restart, Nasr’s and AXR’s disappointment was ensured.
“I am very proud of everybody at Action Express,” said Nelson. “It seemed like we were getting curve balls every time we turned around.
“The No. 31 car set the fastest lap of the race so that shows they had speed, and the drivers did a heck of a job, to be leading late in the race and many times in the middle of the race.”
“The cards just didn’t fall our way today, but we’ll leave here with our heads held high because I think they knew we were here.”
Two-time IMSA champion Curran, who has stepped down from a full-time driving role this year to become 'third man' in the four Michelin Endurance Cup races, stated: “This race was totally insane, one of the most challenging races I’ve done here.
“Early on, it was dry, there was some really good racing, I had a lot of fun in the car both during the day and at night. There were a lot of good battles with some good people, good teams, and we ran in the top three most of the race.
“But I was in the car at 5am and it was pitch black out, raining like crazy and the windshield was fogging up! We couldn’t get the wiper working right and it was really miserable, really hard to drive.
“But we kept charging forward from fourth place to where we ended up, with Felipe battling with Alonso. I felt we had a strong Whelen Cadillac, enough to win the race, but we’ll take second place – though it is a bit disappointing after finishing second last year!”
Said Nasr: “I thought we had a good car in both dry and wet conditions, and it was looking good until the rain really poured down.
“There was nothing I could do: I was the first car coming through and I just aquaplaned all the way and lost the lead. But I wanted to go back racing.
“I think we had a winning car in our hands and I wanted to get the job done if I could. It was amazing, the hard work the team did in every single pit stop to handle all the tire changes, the work the mechanics did, and getting the fastest lap of the race.”
Derani, the 2016 Rolex 24 winner with ESM, added: “We had such a difficult day, with so much rain. It was sad not to be fighting for the win at the end, but we’re happy as well to be able to finish in such a difficult race. Anything could have happened.
“Thank you to the team for an amazing job, it was a first race for me with Whelen Engineering and I’m really happy for what we did. We’re second in the championship and we’re going to keep fighting.”
The #5 AXR Cadillac, driven by Joao Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque and the now-retired Christian Fittipaldi, was afflicted by electrical issues three hours into the race, that cost the team 45 minutes as they sought a remedy.
The defending Rolex 24 winners eventually finished 20 laps adrift, ninth overall and seventh in the DPi class.
#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi: Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, Pipo Derani
Photo by: Jake Galstad / LAT Images
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