Sunoco Challenge winner Middleton finishes second on Daytona 24 Hours debut
Reigning British GT4 champion and 2017 Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner Stuart Middleton set new records at the world-famous Daytona 24 Hours last weekend by becoming the youngest driver to claim a podium finish this century.
It was fairy-tale debut at the Florida venue for the 18-year-old who finished second overall alongside Action Express Racing team-mates Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Eric Curran.
What’s more, Middleton – who won the Daytona 24 Hours prize drive thanks to his record-breaking British GT campaign – had the honour of climbing aboard the Whelen-sponsored Cadillac DPi for the final stint of the race.
2012 Sunoco Challenge winner Felipe Nasr lined up seventh 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 overall and in second by the end of his first triple stint.
Next up was Middleton who delivered a mature drive by setting consistent times and returning the car unblemished after two hours of hard racing.
Driving duties were shared from then on between Curran, Conway and Nasr as Middleton 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 #31 car to second overall. 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 clock counted down but, crucially, Middleton would have to run again in order to complete the drive time mandated by IMSA. As a result the youngster had the honour of completing the final stint of the race and taking the chequered flag.
The winning sister Action Express entry might have set new records for laps completed and overall distance, but Middleton also set new records of his own by becoming the highest-ever placed Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner. He beat the benchmark previously held by team-mate Nasr, who finished third in 2012, but more importantly also became the race’s youngest overall podium visitor in the 21st century.
“First and foremost I have to thank everyone for getting me here,” said Middleton. “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.”
Meanwhile, British GT3 champion and Sunoco 240 Challenge winner Rick Parfitt Jnr qualified an incredible fourth overall for the Daytona 24 Hours-supporting IMSA Continental Tyre race on Friday before a fuel issue ended his hopes early.
British GT drivers are eligible to contest both Sunoco Challenges this season, with points awarded for race position, fastest laps and pole positions across GT3, GT4, Pro and Am.
The season gets underway at Oulton Park on March 31-April 2.
2018 BRITISH GT SCHEDULE
1 Oulton Park, March 31-April 2 >> TICKETS
2 Rockingham, April 28-29 >> TICKETS
3 Snetterton, May 26-27 >> TICKETS
4 Silverstone 500, June 9-10 >> TICKETS
5 Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), July 21-22 >> TICKETS (FREE ENTRY)
6 Brands Hatch, August 4-5 >> TICKETS
7 Donington Park, September 22-23 >> TICKETS