A fourth-place finish in last weekend’s Petit Le Mans for Eric Curran and his Action Express Racing co-drivers Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud clinched the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship Prototype title for the No. 31 Corvette DP team.
To do it, Curran and company had to beat their AXR teammates, who just happened to be their stiffest competition all year long.
The No. 31 full-season tandem of Curran and Cameron entered the final round of the 2016 campaign with a minuscule one-point edge over two-time and defending champions Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Corvette DP, meaning the margin for error was virtually non-existent.
For Curran, the fact that he and his team rose to the challenge made the accomplishment all the sweeter for the GT racer-turned Prototype champion.
“It’s unbelievable,” Curran told Sportscar365. “Thinking about where I was with the Whelen Engineering car a couple of years ago, to think about moving over to Action Express and then teaming up with Dane as a teammate, it’s just an unbelievable amount of ingredients that have come together that just gelled like crazy.
“Last year was our first year and we came close to winning a championship, and now obviously we just keep getting stronger and stronger.
“I feel like, from my standpoint, I’ve just gotten better and better in these high-downforce cars coming from GT and touring cars back in the day.”
The ten-hour season finale at Road Atlanta seemed to be shaping up for a duel to the finish and the championship between the two Action Express cars before the No. 5 entry suffered a puncture that derailed its title attack.
Curran admitted he had mixed emotions at seeing the sister entry suffer the setback.
“It’s a tricky situation because they’re our teammates and good friends, but we’re fighting them for the championship,” he said.
“Ultimately we wanted to win this thing. Dane and I came into this saying, ‘It’s our turn to win this,’.
“It’s disappointing for those guys, but it benefited us of course. It could have been us with a puncture, but it just wasn’t.”
Curran noted that winning the final championship for the DP platform was special, but added that he is eager for the new DPi era to begin next year.
“I think when people look back on it, the DP era was a long era,” he said. “Especially the Corvette Daytona Prototype, that car ran for a long time.
“I think when people look back they’re going to remember that Dane and I won the championship in a Whelen Engineering DP Corvette. I think that’s pretty special.
“Next year’s going a different year, different cars, a lot of exciting things are going to happen on the IMSA side, but I think it’s pretty cool to win the championship in the last era of the Daytona Prototype.
“It’s been a phenomenal car and obviously we’ve fallen in love with it. I’ve personally gotten a lot better in it over the last couple of years, so pretty exciting.”
While not yet announced, Curran and Cameron are expected to continue with Action Express as part of its new Cadillac DPi effort.
“I’m happy I spent two years in [the DP], and to go to the next car, I think that’s a nice little stepping stone,” Curran said.
“It’s going to take some time, it’s going to have some little things that need to get sorted out, but we continue with Whelen Engineering support, which is amazing, and I think the new platform is going to be top-notch.
“I can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait to drive it!”
The 2016 championship has been a culmination of sorts the 41-year-old, who has been through thick and thin with team principal Sonny Whelen for nearly the last decade.
The relationship dates back to 2007, when Whelen hired Curran for its World Challenge program with a Corvette C6.
They made the move to Grand-Am, also in GT, three years later, prior to a step up to DP in 2014.
“It’s been an amazing relationship and I really owe this to him and his company,” Curran said.
“I couldn’t be happier. It hasn’t quite sunk in, but to be a Prototype champion, saying that a couple of years ago it would have been like, ‘really?’ But here we are today.
“We put it all together. It goes to show that all of the hard work, me personally as a driver, but all the hard work that the team and everybody at Action Express has put into this to put it all together.
“It feels pretty damn good.”
John Dagys contributed to this story.