2nd February 2015. Dorset UK
Keen Impresses at the Rolex 24 At Daytona
With the overnight rain burning off just in time for the driver signings ahead of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, everything was looking good for the start of the 53rd Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday 24th January. One of the highlights of the Rolex 24 that sets it apart from European racing is the pre-race presentation of the race cars and the drivers. With flags flying, the cars were pushed onto the grid in reverse order and the drivers got their crowd debuts!
Then, at around 2 pm, with the Florida Sunshine beating down it was time for those famous words by Jochen Mass, "Drivers, please start your engines" and with a huge growl from the track, the 53 strong grid were ready for the 24 hour race that marks the start of the 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. When the grid was let loose to take the start-flag at 2:10pm the no.31 Action Express run Whelen DP car made a flying start with Max Papis at the wheel in 9th position and soon thereafter battling its way up to 7th position, however, within the first 15 minutes the car was back in the pit lane with Papis complaining of steering trouble. The team could not find anything mechanical wrong with the steering and got the car back out quickly, loosing just one lap, but the issue was still causing him trouble and unfortunately we saw the car pull into the garages for a big fix. The power steering unit had broken, which meant that although the car was still drivable, a total failure could not be excluded, so needed to be replaced. This moved the car from top 10 to nearly the bottom of the standings at 51st place out of 53 cars, after losing a further 17 laps. However, the highly professional team from Action Express had worked hard and the car was out again to fight for its chance in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Eric Curran took the wheel after Max and then Dane Cameron, before it was Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner Phil Keen's turn to finally get out for the Rolex 24. Around 9.30pm, under the Florida moonlight Phil was able to push the car for top speeds, gaining the fastest lap in the car at that moment just 30 minutes into his stint at an impressive 1.40.834 (the 6th quickest lap at the time). Maybe it was the fireworks that pushed his game, but it was certainly noted that Phil had speed, taking quicker laps than other drivers in the field. Phil enjoyed an epic two and a half hour stint and, just before getting out of the car at midnight, set another fastest lap at 1.40.175 which left him with a smile plastered across his face after getting out of the car!
With night time setting in, and the crowds at the track and drivers having had dispersed, presumably reserving vital energy for the remaining 14 hours of the race left, it was still clear to see the crew were up and ready waiting for action. They stay up for the whole of the 24 hours, only stopping to brush their teeth in the early hours of the morning, briefly refreshed and ready for the final hours of the Rolex 24.
Night time stints out of the way, the Action Express team and line-up of pro drivers never stopped performing like a winning organisation. Despite the early setbacks, each driver was keeping pace with the top performers in the field, and with Phil Keen ready to take the wheel again around 7 am, it was clear that the car was able to run with the front runners!
After yet more hours driving and a few driver changes later, Phil Keen having impressed the team with his outstanding performance, was given the honour of bringing the Action Express run No. 31 Whelen Daytona Prototype back home over the finish line. The car had fought its way back from 51st position into 7th overall and 5th in class, a massive achievement, and it was just up to Phil to bring it in safely and enjoy the chequered flag over the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
Maybe it was the team's motto scrawled on the information board 'refuse to lose' that kept spirits up within the Team's pit lane, but both the drivers and crew maintained solid performance throughout the whole of the 24 hours. A happy crew greeted the No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype back home, whilst sister car No. 5 Mustang Sampling Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype came home in 2nd place to Victory lane, despite also visiting the garage during the race. A winning combination it seems from the Action Express team and an awesome result for everyone involved.
Update: Because Wayne Taylor Racing lost their 3rd place in the Rolex 24 At Daytona due to drive time violations and being placed at the bottom of the standings, it now means that No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype finished in 4th position in class - a fantastic result despite the problems leaving us with "if only"...
The Sunoco Whelen Challenge will continue for 2015. For pictures click here
ANGLO AMERICAN OIL COMPANY: Now in our 16th year of trading, Anglo American Oil Company is continuing to represent Sunoco race fuels directly in the UK and through exclusive distributors in Europe and the Middle East. Anglo American Oil Company is the official fuel supplier for over 20 championships in Europe, some of which are eligible for the Sunoco Challenges. For details about our products go to www.aaoil.co.uk
THE SUNOCO CHALLENGES: The 2015 Sunoco Whelen Challenge was provided in partnership with Whelen Engineering in the USA and Anglo American Oil Company Ltd. in the UK and enabled racers from selected Sunoco fuelled Championships to compete against each other across the 2014 race season. Drivers in qualifying series competed in a unique point system and the highest number of points at the end of the season, Phil Keen, was named the 2015 Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner. The prize for the 2015 Sunoco Whelen Challenge was a fully paid for race seat in the Action Express racing run Whelen sponsored Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype during the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January 2015. The 2015 season will be open to challengers from Radical Enduro Championship (formally SR3 Challenge), Radical European Masters, British GT3 and Britcar Endurance - it is these drivers, in these series alone that are considered to be able to handle a DP car at plus 190mph speed on the famed 31° banking at Daytona International Speedway. More details at www.sunocochallenge.com
WHELEN: Whelen Engineering Company is the "officially licensed" warning lights of NASCAR. For over 60 years, they have researched, designed and built the finest visual and audible warning products for police, fire, emergency medical services, towing, and department of transportation professionals. All of Whelen's products are manufactured in the United States, and Whelen employs more than 1,400 at its two plants in the US. For more informatio www.whelen.com.