Frustrating Finish to 2014 for Visit Florida Racing


Third in championship as focus moves to 2015

Braselton, Ga. (4 October 2014) – Despite hosting an enthusiastic group of Visit Florida guests on a perfect sunny day at the races and having a very fast Corvette DP race car, the 2014 season didn’t close out as Visit Florida Racing had been hoping on Saturday.

After a qualifying run that placed the No. 90 Visit Florida Corvette DP on the second row to start Saturday’s 10-hour Petit Le Mans, a freak incident during a full-course caution period just before the halfway mark essentially put the No. 90 out of contention in the season-ending IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Petit Le Mans event.

The team, with drivers Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiante and endurance race specialist Mike Rockenfeller, soldiered on to the finish with the crippled machine in P23 overall (seventh in class), 19 laps down from the winner.

The result thwarted the team’s ambition to return to victory lane and close out the year second in the overall championship. There was good reason for the team to have had confidence for reaching their goals after the opening segments of the race showed the Visit Florida machine to have great pace.

The 17th-annual Petit Le Mans was marked by a record-breaking 13 full-course caution periods and some of the more unexpected incidents in its history, including a fracas in pit lane.

Rockenfeller took the green flag at 11:15am, moving up to take second place during his double stint before handing off to Valiante. Rockenfeller reported having a pretty smooth time in the car after the German DTM star emerged from his first stint.

“It wasn’t too bad,” said ‘Rocky’. “As the tires went off, I had to be careful. Traffic is really the key here, and how you get through. I tried to stay out of trouble, and we are still there.”

During Valiante’s run, the gloves began to come off on track, though he held his ground and topped out his double stint in fourth position.

“We had some contact with one of the GTD cars,” said Valiante. “I guess he didn’t see us when he was passing us, and knocked me back to sixth. We were able to work our way back up to fourth. The car was still fine after the contact, and in good shape.There was a varying degree of driver experience out there, and there have been a lot of incidences with car contact. This whole race is just going to be trying to survive and there is going to be a lot more carnage.”

The prophecy of those words were just about to manifest for the team when Westbrook took over with 3.5 hours of the race completed. While under a caution flag, a GTD class Audi attempted an ill-advised re-positioning move in the middle of a corner while circulating behind the safety car, shoving Westbrook’s Corvette off-course and causing front end damage. While he managed to get the car back to the garage area for repairs, the off-track time and lingering effects of the damage ended the team’s shot at a second victory of the season.

For the balance of the race, Rockenfeller and Valiante each completed another round of double stints before Westbrook was loaded into the Corvette to bring it home.

“We had a lot of promise for a while, we were racing hard and fighting for the win,” reflected Westbrook after the race. “We were in a strong position when the incident happened under full-course yellow which changed our day. It was a really big hit so after that we had so many problems because of the damage on the car. The main thing is we didn’t lose anything in the championship. Of course, we came here today with the objective of taking the fight to the No. 10. Both of the other drivers did really well so it’s a shame. But at least we still finished third in the championship.”

Team Owner, Troy Flis, focused on what the team learned and how it will frame their off-season.

“The story of today wasn’t really the story of our year,” supplied Flis. “At the end of the season, we just weren’t as strong as we were at the beginning. We’ve just got to go back to the shop and work harder. We’ve got to get stronger, get more depth in the team. We’ve got great guys this year and I’m happy about that but we were really hoping to end up second this year, which would have been our best finish in the championship. But we didn’t give up and looking at it as a whole, I think we did a decent job. We’re going to come back next year, get stronger, and work to improve on where we made our mistakes this year.”

Flis also spoke of being motivated by their competition.

“The Action Express guys did a fabulous job all year, they deserve the championship. You’ve got to go beat those guys, you’ve got to learn from them and make your program better so you can take the fight to them. I’m happy, but I’m also sorry we couldn’t have finished the season better for our partners, Visit Florida, GoPro, Chevrolet, everybody who has helped us so much. We appreciate their help.”

Petit Le Mans marks the final race of the 2014 IMSA-sanctioned Tudor United SportsCar Championship but viewers have one more chance to catch the action, Sunday, October 5 on FOX (check local listings).

The cars will kick off the 2015 season at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, January 9-11 at Daytona International Speedway.