The Georgia Aquarium proved to be an appropriate backdrop as the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) paid tribute to its 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship titlists at Monday’s TUDOR Night of Champions.
“We’ve been surrounded by sharks all season, so this is a very interesting setting,” said Joao Barbosa, who joined Christian Fittipaldi in repeating as Prototype (P) champions for Action Express Racing.
Other series champions crowned at the event were Patrick Pilet in GT Le Mans (GTLM); Jon Bennett and Colin Braun in Prototype Challenge (PC); and Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell in GT Daytona (GTD). Each driver champion received the Bishop-France Award, replicas of the series’ perpetual trophy.
“Obviously winning the championship the way we did in the final laps of the season was very exciting for the fans and for the series,” Fittipaldi said “The competition was much stronger this season and we had what we had for the championship fight. It was great to deliver the championship for everyone who works so hard at the shop and track to give us incredible race cars.”
The festive evening also included reigning American Idol winner Nick Fradiani, who introduced the opening and second half of the festivities with a trio of performances.
The seven champions also received TUDOR Grantour Chrono Fly-Back Timepieces, presented by Russell Kelly, Brand Manager of TUDOR Watch USA.
“The championship battles in all four TUDOR United SportsCar Championship classes went down to the final race of the season, and given Saturday’s unprecedented conditions, you are all worthy champions,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton.
Team championship-winning Action Express Racing (P), Porsche North America (GTLM), CORE autosport (PC) and Scuderia Corsa (GTD) – also received paintings of their race cars commissioned by Continental Tire.
Motorsports artist Bill Patterson executed the painting of the Action Express Corvette DP on the main stage while guests filed in to the Aquarium ballroom.
The championship marked the fifth consecutive PC team title for CORE autosport, dating back to American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón competition, and second straight for Bennett and Braun as drivers.
“Our team manager, Morgan Brady, warned us at the beginning of the year that this could be the most competitive season of all in PC,” Bennett said.
“Morgan was not wrong. The quality of competition in PC is improving every year, and it was a tough season. We didn’t have nearly as many wins as we’ve had in the past, but we did have a solid season. Our keys were reliability and perseverance.”
Scuderia Corsa only led the GTD standings at one point of the season – at the checkered flag of Saturday’s rain-drenched Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda.
“Last season, we led most of the year and lost it in the last two races,” Bell said. “To reverse that process here is definitely the way to go, leading for the first time in the final race and winning the championship.
“It’s very satisfying winning it with a new team – Scuderia Corsa. We’ll never forget the treacherous conditions in the final race, and to come out without making any mistakes was great. Frankly, it was a dream season.”
Chevrolet, Porsche and Ferrari were recognized as winners of the manufacturers’ championships – Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona, respectively. Michelin was the winning GTLM tire manufacturer.
The winners of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, recognizing the four iconic endurance races on the schedule, were officially honored.
Barbosa and Fittipaldi also repeated in Prototype; Corvette Racing with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in GTLM; PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ Mike Guasch, Tom Kimber-Smith and Andrew Palmer in PC; and TI Automotive/ViperExchange’s Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence (GTD) were champions of the unique competition that awarded points at different segments of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda.
“It was a tough year, so to come away with the Patrón Endurance Cup is a nice consolation for what could have been,” Magnussen said.
Among the other presentations:
- Winning the TOTAL Pole Awards were Ricky Taylor (P), James French (PC) and Dion von Moltke (GTD).
- The Continental Tire “Driving Confidence Award” for most racing miles went to Action Express (P) for the second consecutive year, following its perfect 2014 season by completing all but one lap in 2015. CORE autosport won in PC for the second consecutive year, while Alex Job Racing’s No. 22 Porsche won in GTD.
- The VP Fuels Front Runner Award, presented to the team leading the most laps during the second half of the season, went to RSR Racing in PC/GTD and Porsche North America in P/GTLM.
- The No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R won the DEKRA Green Challenge Award for having the cleanest, fastest and most efficient car.
- BMW was presented the Green Racing Manufacturer Award.
The evening ended with a look to the future, with Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood giving an update on DAYTONA Rising.
“Only 100 days to go,” Chitwood said of the $400 million transformation. “It will be finished and ready, creating the world’s first true motorsports stadium. Everyone will be amazed when they show up for the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 30-31.”
The next scheduled activity in preparation for the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway on Nov. 17-18.