Action Express Racing heads into this weekend’s BUBBA burger Grand Prix of Long Beach with a tweaked driver line-up for its Mustang Sampling No. 5 Cadillac. The 100-minute race will not only mark the first sprint race of the IMSA season following the Rolex 24 At Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, but it will also be the first race to feature the full-season pairing of Filipe Albuquerque (pictured in middle, above) with team veteran Joao Barbosa (at left).
Christian Fittipaldi, who was a key component of the team’s run to victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona (at right, above), is transitioning to his role as the team’s Sporting Director. His new role will see him continue to be on hand for the IMSA sprint events to contribute to the performance side of the program while also serving as an ambassador for the team with sponsors and corporate guests.
Fittipaldi, who has campaigned the No. 5 Mustang Sampling entry since 2013, will return to the cockpit of the Cadillac DPi in June as he looks to defend his Sahlen’s Six Hour title as part of his Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup racing program.
The new team approach will see Albuquerque check off a few ‘firsts’ as he makes his Long Beach debut. The Portuguese racer maintains an active schedule of race events in Europe, all of which utilize the endurance format. So the 100-minute race will be another adjustment for him.
“This is my first time racing a sprint event like this since I think DTM in 2014, so I’ve been thinking about that and my time in formula cars to get into the mindset a little bit!” said Albuquerque. “The track will be new but I’ve been preparing with iRacing because their modeling is very good, so that will help me ahead of the weekend. Christian will be very important for me and for the team and Joao has a lot of good information, so I am confident we can get up to speed quickly.”
After its Daytona win, the No. 5 Cadillac faltered at Sebring after contact from another car sent the No. 5 behind the wall for repairs. Long Beach historically hasn’t been especially kind to the Mustang Sampling car either, but Barbosa to change that this weekend and make up lost ground.
“We’ve always been competitive at Long Beach as a team, but our results have not been that consistent,” said Barbosa. “Hopefully we can finish the race in a good position at Long Beach.
“It will be different not racing with Christian as my co-driver, but the goal is no different – we want to go out and try to win races. I think having his experience is going to be a valuable asset for us to keep improving the car. It will be different for sure but our focus really is on the end result.”