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Big victories at Watkins Glen for Action Express, Ford

Watkins Glen – Action Express Racing and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing both enjoyed banner top two finishes in their respective classes in Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.

Action Express Racing’s Joao Barbosa edged Action Express teammate Dane Cameron to claim the overall Prototype class victory while Ford’s Richard Westbrook held off Ford teammate Joey Hand to win in the GTLM class.

Barbosa co-drove the Action Express No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette DP with Christian Fittipaldi while Cameron and co-driver Eric Curran took Action Express’s No. 31 Chevrolet Corvette to a solid runner-up finish. In the Ford camp, Westbrook was teamed with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT while Hand shared the No. 66 Ford GT driving time with Dirk Mueller.

“To place in the top two spots on the podium for Action Express is just fantastic,” declared Cameron.

Also co-drivers scoring class wins Sunday were: Renger van der Zande/Alex Popow, Starworks Motorsports ORECA FLM09 in Prototype Challenge and Alessandro Balzan/Christina Nielsen/Jeff Segal, Scuderia Corse Ferrari 488GT3 in GTD.

After five hours of racing, pit stops, a few yellow flag periods and driver stint rotations throughout the field, the race was set for the final hour.

While leading, Cameron as well as third place runner Jonathan Bomarito and fourth-place Olivier Pla, made final pit stops with 40 minutes left in race. Barbosa inherited the lead. Cameron came out of the pits ahead of Pla and Bomarito. Barbosa pitted a lap later and exited the pits ahead of both Cameron and Pla, maintaining the lead in the process.

Following the pit stops, when the race went back to green Barbosa held sway over the remaining distance, despite two restarts and scored the victory over Cameron and Pla.

“My team made everything work properly on the final pit stop,” said Barbosa. “It was a great pit stop. We put on a new set of Continental tires and they worked really well on that last stint. Once I was out front I was able to manage the race.”

In addition to being an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Champion event, Sunday’s race doubled as part of the four-race 2016 Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

The Extreme Speed Motorsports Prototype team came to The Glen seeking its third consecutive North American Endurance Cup win of 2016 having won the at Daytona and Sebring. Their bid ended with just a little over an hour remaining in the race, when Pipo Derani, while running fourth in the Honda Ligier JS P2, pulled up with the car heavily smoking and leaking fluids onto the track. Derani shared the car Sunday with Scott Sharp and the race’s Prototype pole sitter Johannes van Overbeek.

After beginning the GTLM race from the pole, Westbrook drove an early stint before turning the car over to Briscoe. Briscoe brought the car in from the lead for a pit stop with an hour and a half remaining in the race and turned it back over to Westbrook, who extended the lead. Westbrook made the team’s final pit stop with 46 minutes left and maintained the lead from there.

The victory was the second straight IMSA WeatherTech win for the Westbrook-Briscoe pairing. They won in Monterey, Calif., earlier this season. The Hand/Mueller Ford team also won the GTE-Pro class at the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“It’s just such a good feeling for us and our confidence is so high,” said Westbrook. “It’s just such a pleasure to go to work each day in this Ford camp. It’s been an amazing 30-day period from Laguna (Monterey) to LeMans to now this.”

Around the track

A very familiar voice to Western New York race fans gave the command for the 39 starters to fire their engines Sunday. Veteran area motor sports announcer Mike Paz was Grand Marshal for this year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Paz has announced at most all the area tracks and is now the head drag racing announcer at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway.

Williamsville’s Phil Henderson manned The Glen’s main front stretch start’s stand all weekend assisting IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship co-chief starters Tani Corthell and Dennis Paul. Henderson and his wife, Marion Henderson, have been fixtures at The Glen for decades and their schedule is not slowing down in 2016.

“I am here as an assistant starter this weekend, as one of the local RSI starters,” said Henderson. “I think I started working here as a track worker probably about 1960 ... It’s been a long time and I’m still having fun. In fact, I’m back here next weekend for a club race and I was here last weekend for the SCCA Majors.”

“He’s got stories he always tells because he’s been here so long,” Corthell said.

“I’ve heard a lot of his stories but he comes up with a whole new set of stories every year,” said Paul. “He never has repeat stories.”