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St. Petersburg's Bourdais part of winning 24 Hours team

DAYTONA BEACH — 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 — born from the merger of American Le Mans and Grand-AM — ended with a NASCAR flair. A full-course caution swallowed Joao Barbosa's 13-second lead and gave Max Angelelli a chance to win the 24 Hours at Daytona.

But Barbosa pulled away on the restart with 8:23 left Sunday to give Action Express Racing its second victory in four years. It was Barbosa's second overall win and third in class. Co-driver Sebastien Bourdais, a St. Petersburg resident, won the 24 Hours for the first time, while Christian Fittipaldi has won twice.

Action Express' second entry finished third, and Chevrolet's new Corvette swept the podium for the Bob Johnson-owned organization. Action won its first 24 Hours in 2010, and Barbosa was part of that team.

"This one wasn't unexpected," Johnson said. "This one we expected to win."

Barbosa was black-flagged for avoidable contact while running second Sunday morning, a penalty he called "really harsh." But the team worked its way back. The caution nearly unraveled the comeback. "I was really surprised by that caution, but it's racing, and we just had to deal with it," Barbosa said.

Wayne Taylor Racing finished second for the second straight year. Co-owner Wayne Taylor, 58, came out of retirement to drive for the first time since 2010, sharing the seat with Angelelli and sons Ricky and Jordan. The elder Taylor drove one stint Saturday.

"It was a great result. …It's been an emotional roller-coaster," Wayne Taylor said.

The crowded GT Daytona class had a controversial finish. 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, IMSA reversed its decision and gave the victory to Level 5.

Memo Gidley, who was involved in a wreck Saturday, had surgery on his left arm and leg and needs back surgery.

St. Petersburg's Bourdais part of winning 24 Hours team 01/26/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 26, 2014 11:08pm]
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