Middleton becomes youngest Daytona 24 Hours podium visitor in a generation

2017 Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner Stuart Middleton set new records at the famous Daytona International Speedway by becoming the youngest driver to claim a podium place this century.

The reigning GT4 British GT champion made a fairy-tale debut at the Florida-based track, getting behind the wheel of his Cadillac DPI car to complete the final stint of the race. The distinctively red liveried Whelen Engineering backed-car had to back off in the final hours of the race to preserve the engine, ensuring the car was unable to challenge the race leader, and sister Action Express Racing car for overall honours.

2012 Sunoco Challenge winner Felipe Nasr started the race from seventh place on the grid but was on the move as soon as the race got underway at 2:40pm local time. By the end of lap one he was up to third place and in second by the end of his first triple stint in the car. He handed over to Stuart to take over the reins and the 18-year old delivered a mature drive, setting consistent times, and returning the car unblemished after two hours of hard racing.

Driving duties were shared from then on between Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Nasr as Stuart did his best to stave off the flu. As dawn broke the car was holding third place with Nasr again behind the wheel but as the morning progressed the second placed Acura dropped away, promoting the number 31 car to second. A brief visit to the pit garage during a full course yellow allowed the team to solve a cooling issue without losing much time.

The four drivers then split the remaining running as the Rolex clock counted down but, crucially, Stuart would have to run again as he had not completed the two hours mandated by IMSA. As a result the youngster had the honour of completing the final stint of the race and taking the chequered flag.

With 808 laps completed of the 3.56 mile circuit a new distance record was set but Stuart also set new records of his own, becoming the highest placed Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner, beating the previous third place set by teammate Nasr in 2012, but more importantly the youngest overall podium visitor of the 21st century.

Stuart Middleton – #31 Action Express Cadillac DPI

“First and foremost I have to thank everyone for getting me here. The opportunity to race in the Rolex 24 is crazy. It’s something I couldn’t picture this time last year so to finish in P2 is just unbelievable, it has been an incredible 24 hours. It was a big learning curve for me, I was having to learn the car, the track, the tyres and the team throughout the weekend. I couldn’t have asked for better team-mates than these guys and the Action Express Racing team did a fantastic job.

“This will look very good on my CV. To race against some of the best drivers in the prototype world is insane to me. I’m very happy with how it went and hopefully it is something that we can build on going forward. It feels incredible and hopefully there is more to come in the future, I’ll try and do all I can to build on the momentum.”

Anders Hildebrand – Managing Director, Anglo American Oil Company

“That was a happy ending. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so nervous. Stuart had a really good stint but beat himself down because Simon Pagenaud turned into him and they had contact. He was not happy with himself but from where we were watching he was amazing. He cut through traffic, overtook other guys, reeled in Pagenaud and it was an amazing drive.

“He was relieved that he didn’t crash the car, but they were leading the race until the car started to get hot which ruled them out of the win. We got the call from the team that they needed to put him in for another stint and he did extremely well. He did exactly what he needed to and brought it home in second for the chequered flag. It’s a happy, happy ending.”

Parfitt Jnr. provides battling spirit despite trying Daytona debut

Rick Parfitt Jnr. showed his class in the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge race at Daytona, battling his way through the opening stints of the race in the top six. The Nottingham-based driver started the race from fourth on the grid as the cars crossed the line to start the 240-minute epic.

He lost out in the opening laps, dropping down the order as cold tyres prevented him from attacking in the same way as his rivals. By the forty-minute mark a Full Course Yellow period was declared after a car spun on the back straight, allowing Rick to pit the Audi from tenth place. The new rubber clearly suited the British GT Champion as, when the track went green, he vaulted up to fifth place, just behind the leading gaggle of cars.

After a strong second stint the car spluttered to a halt on the back straight having run out of fuel. The team were able to recover the car to the pits, allowing Darren Jorgensen to take over driving duties after the car was refuelled. Pro driver Cameron Lawrence jumped in to finish the race in 27th place but it was definitely a case of what could have been. The pace was clearly in the car and drivers but Rick can be satisfied that he did and outstanding job on his US racing debut.

Rick Parfitt Jnr. – #13 GMG Racing Audi R8

“At the beginning I just got mugged, I had no grip. All the way through you could just see in the mid corner to exit it  just didn’t have the bite that the Mustangs have. We can go through the twisty stuff better, and I can really get them on the brakes by stepping it on its nose and getting around.

“I was running consistent low 1:58s which was pretty quick but it’s a very tricky car, very snappy, so I had to be careful with it. I was just trying to keep it as tidy as possible, I didn’t feel that I could be aggressive with the car. I could do very good, consistent laps but to go on the offensive we needed that extra bit of bite on the car, so I could pull people in and out-brake them. The Mustangs could do that, and I couldn’t get the power down to match them.

“It was a good debut, two Audis in the top six so that’s good going and for me, a 43-year old singer from the UK, to be going quicker than the young factory drivers I’ve got to be fairly happy with that.

“I couldn’t have done this without Sunoco, thank you so, so much. It is a once in a lifetime experience so for all the young racers, this is brilliant so go for it. It’s an utterly incredible experience.”

Anders Hildebrand – Managing Director, Anglo American Oil Company

“It was an interesting race. Rick started fourth after an amazing qualifying. Quite soon we could see he was struggling with grip as it was the first-time the car had run with new tyres and full tanks, so he couldn’t push as hard as he wanted. He kept the car safe and didn’t hit anyone but dropped down to 13th however when he pitted the car was transformed. It was disappointing end to his time in the car when it ran out of fuel, but he did an amazing job. I’m really pleased for him, he’s such a great ambassador for us, and such a professional, both inside and outside the car.”

Sunoco Challenge winners Middleton and Parfitt Jnr impresses at the Roar

Current British GT champions Stuart Middleton and Rick Parfitt Jnr have successfully completed their initial running at the famous Daytona International Speedway, taking part in the ‘Roar Before The 24’ ahead of the 2018 Daytona 24 Hours.

GT4 champion Middleton became the youngest driver to win the Sunoco Whelen Challenge, a package worth $250,000. He joins the front-running Action Express Racing (AX Racing) team in the Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi, which utilises all of the 600 bhp from the 6.2-litre V8 engine to reach speeds approaching 200 mph on the banking.

17-year old Middleton joins another Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner in former Formula One driver Felipe Nasr in the #31 Cadillac; the first time two winners have teamed up. Also competing in the car is current Toyota LMP1 and former IndyCar and Formula E racer Mike Conway, and 2016 IMSA champion Eric Curran.

The #31 squad finished the Roar with fastest time in qualifying for the pit and garage allocations, leaving the team in good stead ahead of race qualifying on Thursday 25 January (15:45 EST / 20:45 GMT).

Fellow British GT GT3 champion Rick Parfitt Jnr, who won the Sunoco 240 Challenge, is also racing having become the first amateur to win based on results in the British GT series. His prize is a drive in the BMW Endurance Challenge, a 240-minute race before the 24 Hours which opens the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series.

Rick joins Daren Jorgensen and Cameron Lawrence in the Global Motorsports Group Racing (GMG Racing) Audi R8 GT4, a new challenge for the Brit who is used to more powerful machinery, having raced a Bentley Continental GT3 to British GT championship success. The trio finished the final practice session seventh overall, bonding well before qualifying on Thursday 25 January (12:25 EST / 17:45 GMT).

Stuart Middleton, 2018 Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion:

“Overall the Roar [Before the 24] has gone really well for me. It’s been very productive and it’s been good to get to know the team and learn the car and the track. The progress that’s been made from myself, the team, and my teammates has been really strong. From our point of view, we’ve done everything we needed to do to set ourselves up for the race.

“Every session I’ve tried to make progress and it’s definitely shown towards the end of the Roar. I’m very happy with how it’s gone and everyone’s feeling pretty confident. I think we’ll be in the hunt.

“These guys [teammates; Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, and Mike Conway] are at the top of their game, it’s awesome to have them around – I’ll learn as much as I can from them and they’re constantly giving me tips and reminders of just what I need to do. It’s all very useful stuff.”

Rick Parfitt, 2018 Sunoco 240 Challenge Champion:

“It’s been really good. Coming here with a brand-new car was a bit of a challenge, but GMG (Global Motorsports Group Racing) have done an amazing job and to be here with Sunoco is a dream come true. We’ve made amazing progress: I was the fastest Am in the final session, so we’re definitely flying the flag for us Brits in the GT4 class. I’m really looking forward to coming back to this incredible circuit for race day.

“Sunoco has done a good job placing me with this team as I get on really well with Daren [Jorgensen] and Cameron [Lawrence]. They’re a great team – there’s differences in abilities between us but everyone is pulling together towards a common goal. It can be difficult if you don’t get on with your teammates or there isn’t that sort of interaction but I’m pleased to say I’ve made some friends for life here.

“Race weekend is going to be great. I’ve always said, ‘if a team is happy results will follow’ and we’ve got a great team, our personalities really work together, and we’re going to do the best we can. I think it’s going to be really positive and great.”

Anders Hildebrand, Anglo American Oil Company Ltd Managing Director:

“So far, it’s been good and very encouraging. I was a little bit nervous for Stuart as he’s never driven a car with downforce and we didn’t have the pre-Christmas test we would normally have. We went to the simulator in Indianapolis and he did a really good job there. For him to crack those times, 1m 38s, its early and we have a couple of test days before the race, so it is impressive.

“This year is especially great because we have Felipe Nasr back and he won the 2012 Sunoco Daytona Challenge, and it’s been a dream to get two winners together. Stuart is very excited about the whole prospect of racing with an ex-Formula One driver who is super-fast – and Felipe proved he is super-fast: he got everything out of the car to go fastest and take a stunning qualifying for the pit box.

“Rick has done a stunning job. They are trying to get all the drivers up to speed in the team. The car is box fresh, an Audi R8 GT4, which hadn’t turned a wheel before this. Coming from GT3 into a GT4 car is much harder than getting into a GT3 from a GT4 because you’re going back on what you learned. Rick is 1-1.2s off the pro drivers and he’s never been to the circuit before, so he is very impressive.”

What are the Sunoco Challenges?
The Sunoco Challenges provide an accurate assessment and comparison of performances across multiple championships during any given season. Points are awarded for qualifying and race results, including fastest lap, which are then converted into an individual average score for each competing driver over the course of a full campaign.

That means each race weekend offers drivers an equal chance to climb and drop down their respective Sunoco Challenge table. It also ensures that performances are taken into consideration across an entire season while placing less emphasis on one-off or unfair results.

As in previous years this season’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion will win a fully funded drive aboard a Whelen-sponsored prototype in the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Meanwhile, Sunoco’s 240 Challenge champion will contest the 240-minute Daytona support race held over the same January weekend at the wheel of a Sunoco-liveried GT4 car.