DAYTONA BEACH, FL (27 January 2019) — Going for a second-consecutive victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mustang Sampling Racing team fought back from bad luck early in the race to take a ninth-place overall (seventh-place DPi class) finish in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.
Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa were in position to score their fourth career victory in the Rolex 24 in the early stages of the event, driving the DPi V.R which was started by regular co-driver Filipe Albuquerque.
Albuquerque started 11th after missing qualifying due to a mechanical issue, but demonstrated the potential for the effort as he worked his way up to second by the 30-minute mark. Fittipaldi then took over and was clicking off the laps when the team was forced to take to the garage just before the three hour mark to address an electronics issue that was preventing the brake lights from working.
Despite having a large task to install new electronics at the back of the car, the team worked quickly but the stop during green flag running meant that the delay dropped the No. 5 car to 45th.
From there on, the team worked its way up the scoring pylon into the top 10. Their recovery was hampered by deteriorating weather conditions as the final eight and a half hours resulted in two red flags and numerous extended cautions.
“After the problem, we knew it would be hard to make up any ground, but we kept the car running,” Barbosa explained. “It’s important for points. It was a very odd situation for the team, we don’t usually have these kinds of issues, but that’s racing, they happen. The team dealt with them in a great way and got us back on track.
“The team was right on, they got us back out quickly,” Barbosa added. “The lights took some time to fix and we had a problem with debris on track as well. It’s just of those races – last year we were happy, with the win, and this year we’re disappointed. The car ran great in the dry, but at the end, it was very tricky conditions, very dangerous. I think the race director was pushing the envelope a little bit, but it was the same for everyone.”
The gravity of Fittipaldi’s final prototype start was not lost on the Cadillac driver as he marked the end of his storied 38-year career.
“We had a lot of problems early with the Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, and we managed to fix all of them,” said an emotional Fittipaldi following his final press conference as a driver. “We still tried our very best. A lot of things can happen, I have lost championships by a half or one point. Even if we pick up one position it may make a difference at the end of the year for the championship.”
“I am very proud of everybody at Action Express,” said team manager Gary Nelson. “It seemed like we were getting curve balls every time we turned around – especially on the 5 (Mustang Sampling) car. The drivers did an amazing job and our pit crew was good but unfortunately, they got behind and there just wasn’t an opportunity to make it up. 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.”
“We were many laps down early,” Fittipaldi continued. “We just wanted to keep our car clean and make it to the end of the race to get the maximum amount of points possible. I want to thank everyone on the team, Mustang Sampling, Whelen Engineering, Cadillac and IMSA. They have been a major part of my life. Thanks to the media for covering our events.”
The 48-year-old Brazilian was given a standing ovation by the media following the press conference.
“It would have been awesome to have Christian end on a high, but sometimes, it’s not meant to be,” Albuquerque said. “We had the problem with the brake lights and that was so uncharacteristic, especially in a race of such dimension. It’s a shame for Christian, he will always remember brake lights!”
Fittipaldi first won the Rolex 24 in 2004, and Barbosa won the event in 2010 in the first race for Action Express Racing. The pair co-drove to victory in both 2014 and 2018.
“Christian was a trooper: he stayed in there under very tricky conditions and did everything he could,” said Barbosa, his long-time co-driver. “It’s unfortunate that he is leaving with this result and under these conditions, it could have been a lot more fun. It was a privilege to drive with him all these years and I wish him all the best.”
With a twice-stopped race and closing his racing career while several laps down, team technical director and long time Fittipaldi collaborator Iain Watt lamented on the radio “…well, I am sure this isn’t how you wanted your last stint to be, but thank you for everything.”
“You guys are the best, and always will be,” was Fittipaldi’s sign-off response to Watt and the rest of his team.
Next up for Mustang Sampling Racing will be the historic Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, set for Saturday, March 16, in the central Florida highlands.