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WNY Auto Racing: Fittipaldi wins a thriller

WATKINS GLEN — In the final turns of the Grand-Am Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on Sunday, Christian Fittipaldi had his Action Express Racing No. 5 Corvette mirrors filled with challenger Michael Valiante and his 8 Star Motorsports Corvette No. 3 machine.

Despite the pressure in the headlining Daytona Prototype class battle from Valiante, Fittipaldi of Brazil came across the finish line first by inches to win for himself and co-drivere Joao Barbosa of Portugal. The margin of victory was 0.265, the second-closest in the Sahlen’s event’s history.

It was a special moment for Fittipaldi, whose legendary racing uncle Emerson won the U.S. Grand Prix here in 1970. For Barbosa, it was his second straight win in the Sahlen’s six-hour endurance run, having won last year with former Action Express co-driver Darren Law.

Fittipaldi was taken to the infield care center from victory lane suffering from severe dehydration. He did not attend the postrace news conference but in a news release said: “Today we didn’t have the quickest car on the track but the team did an outstanding job capitalizing on our opportunities and getting the checkered flag.”

The victory was also the second consecutive Daytona Prototype victory on the Grand-Am circuit for Barbosa and Fittipaldi, who also claimed the checkered flag June 15 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“Last year when I won with Darren, I was in the car for the closing laps and that was much easier on me then when I was outside the car this year in the pits and had to just stand there and watch Christian trying to bring the win home,” said Barbosa of the hectic final lap. “Christian drove a very, very good race.”

Fittipaldi assumed the lead for good when leader Brendon Hartley of New Zealand had to pit his Starworks No. 8 Ford/Riley for fuel with just over 12 minutes to go in the race on lap 163. The Starworks team recovered to finish third.

Valiante, of Burnaby, B.C., drove the event with co-drivers Stephane Sarrazin (France) and Enzo Potolicchio (Venezuela).

Team Sahlen’s two cars had a tough day. The No. 42 machine co-driven by Dane Cameron of Sonoma, Calif., Wayne Nonnamaker, North Canton, Ohio, and Mark Wilkins, Toronto, finished 12th. The No. 43 car with Joe Sahlen of Elma driving with Joe and Will Nonnamake of North Canton, Ohio, finished 15th.

In the Grand Touring class Sunday, Stevenson Motorsports No. 57 Camaro co-drivers Robin Liddell (England) and John Edwards (Cincinnati) won for the second straight year. They have won four of the last five Grand-Am GT races this year. Joel Miller (Hesperia, Calif.), Tristan Nunez (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Yojiro Terada (Japan) took GX class honors.

The Sahlen’s weekend was a rain-plagued affair and made for a challenging weekend for Watkins Glen president and Hamburg native Michael Printup.

“To say that it’s been a trying weekend with the weather is a good way to put it,” Printup said. “I had the animals lined up on the backstretch but haven’t built an ark yet.”

Printup estimated Sunday’s crowd at 17,000, as an event record and an increase of 32 percent over 2012.

In the Continental Tire Street Tuner class, Stevan McAleer of Scotland sped to victory in the late stages of the race in his No. 5 Mazda MX-5. Co-driving with McAleer was Michigan’s Marc Miller.

Also competing this past weekend at The Glen was the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama as well as the F2000 Championship Series. Both series ran their 100th races in their respective series’ history.

On Saturday, Angel Benitez Jr., of Valencia, Venezuela, won the first of two IMSA GT3 Cup races of the weekend in the Platinum Cup class while John Goetz (Pompano Beach, Fla.) took the honors in Gold Cup.

On Sunday morning, Ashley Freiberg (Bondville, Vt.) captured the Platinum Cup checkered flag in the final IMSA GT3 Cup race of the weekend while Goetz scored a repeat weekend triumph in Gold Cup.

Tim Minor of Fairfax, Va., captured the first F2000 race of the weekend on Friday afternoon over Kyle Connery. In Saturday’s F2000 race, the tables were turned as Connery topped Minor to take the win.