By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After more than 2,400 miles and 23 1/2 hours of racing, the most prestigious North American sports car race came down to eight minutes and a final five-lap sprint.
The first race of the unified United SportsCar Championship — the NASCAR-owned and IMSA-sanctioned series born from the merger between American Le Mans and Grand-AM — ended with a NASCAR flair. A late, full-course caution swallowed Joao Barbosa’s 13-seccond lead and gave Max Angelelli a last-ditch chance to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Barbosa never gave him a chance, pulling away on the restart with 8:23 to race Sunday to give Action Express Racing its second victory in four years.
It gave Barbosa his second overall win and third in class. Co-driver Sebastien Bourdais won the Rolex for the first time, while Christian Fittipaldi won for the second time.
Action Express’ second entry finished third — and Chevrolet’s new Corvette swept the podium — in an outstanding day for the Bob Johnson-owned organization. Action won its first Rolex in 2010, and Barbosa was part of that team.
“This one wasn’t unexpected,” Johnson said. “This one we expected to win.”
It wasn’t easy. Barbosa was black-flagged for avoidable contact while running second Sunday morning, a penalty he called “really harsh” at the time. But the team worked its way back into contention.
The caution nearly unraveled the comeback. While Angelelli thought there was enough debris to warrant the caution, Barbosa disagreed.
“Max, he said he saw a lot of debris that I really didn’t see,” Barbosa said. “I was really surprised by that caution, but it’s racing, and we just had to deal with it. But we’re here, we won the race.”
Wayne Taylor Racing finished second for the second consecutive year.
Co-owner Wayne Taylor came out of retirement to drive for the first time since 2010, seeking a chance to share the seat with Angelelli and sons Ricky and Jordan. The 58-year-old Taylor drove one stint Saturday and then retreated to the pit stand to strategize for what he hoped would be a third — and most memorable — victory.
“It was a great result, and to have my family and my kids drive with me and Max, it’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” Wayne Taylor said.
Action Express’ second car, with drivers Brian Frisselle, Burt Frisselle, John Martin and Fabien Giroix, was third.
Ford was shut out in its debut of its new EcoBoost engine. The No. 01 car of Chip Ganassi Racing team wasn’t able to defend its race win because of a series of problems that plagued the car starting very early in the race.
Ganassi’s No. 02 entry was taken out of contention when it developed a flat rear tire while Scott Dixon was running second with roughly five hours remaining. The car went to the garage with 48 minutes remaining when the floor of the Ford Riley began to unravel and Dixon could see the pavement under his feet.
Michael Shank Racing’s entry, the 2012 race winning team, was halted by a broken gearbox.
CORE autosport finished a lap ahead of 8Star Motorsport to win the Prototype Challenge class.
Porsche North America claimed the GT Le Mans class with its No. 911 RSR entry.
The crowded GT Daytona class had the most thrilling — and controversial — finish of the race. The victory initially went to Flying Lizard Motorsports when IMSA officials penalized Level 5 Motorsports for avoidable contact on the last lap. But hours after the race ended, IMSA reversed its decision and gave the victory to Level 5.
Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Level 5 Ferrari traded the lead in the final laps with FLM’s Markus Winkelhock, who was driving an Audi. With the Audi mounting a challenge heading into the kink portion of the course, the two cars battled side-by-side through the tight corner. The Audi ran off course, and although replays showed no contact between the two cars, the Ferrari was penalized.
Level 5’s drivers and team personnel charged toward Victory Lane to argue their case. They eventually got what they wanted, a reversal.
“It’s been such a roller coaster,” co-driver Townsend Bell said.
Flying Lizard driver Spencer Pumpelly was adamant teammate Winkelhock was in the right.
“We don’t win races by driving people off the road,” Pumpelly said. “They tried to do that and it didn’t work.”