Race Weekend Central

SMP Racing Wins Rolex 24 Pole; Nick Tandy Fastest Overall

In the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, there are four classes.  Generally, those classes qualify for races in the order of Prototypes first, then Prototype Challenge, GT-Le Mans and GT-Daytona.  Sounds simple enough.

Not so much when it rains.  The rule structure of IMSA currently allows only the GT-Le Mans class tire brand choice.  In this case, all the GT-Le Mans entries chose to run Michelins.  Everyone else runs Continentals.  The result is a jumbled order in qualifying, but the Prototypes will still lead the field to green Saturday afternoon.

In the Prototype session, the teams struggled as rain that started out as moderate rain became heavier during the 15-minute session.  Late in the session, SMP Racing‘s Mikhail Aleshin ripped off a lap at 2:05.793 (101.882 mph), good for ninth overall.  Regardless, that lap was good enough to claim the Prototype pole position.  Since Prototypes always start up front in IMSA, that will mean that the Russian-built BR01-Nissan will lead the field to the green Saturday afternoon.

After completing his lap, Aleshin was not only very pleased with the pole, but also with the fact that he was actually able to finish his lap.

“At the end of the session, the track conditions [worsened],” Aleshin said during his post-race press conference.  “I almost hit the wall a couple of times on my fastest lap.  Surprising for myself, I managed to stay on-track and finish my lap first in class.”

Aleshin’s lap was a half-second faster than Pipo Derani in the No. 2 Ligier JS P2-Honda for Tequila Patron ESM.  Oswaldo Negri, Jr., who was fastest in opening practice, was the third fastest prototype in 18th overall.  Ricky Taylor was fastest of the Daytona Prototypes in fourth, while Alexander Wurz was fifth in the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

During the very wet qualifying session, Nick Tandy took his No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 GT3-R and set a time of 2:01.408 at the end of the GT-Le Mans session.  That time was good enough for the GT-Le Mans class pole and fastest overall.  Teammate Frederic Makowiecki was nearly a full second slower than Tandy, but that was still good enough for second-place.

John Edwards for BMW Team RLL was third fastest, followed by Scuderia Corsa‘s Alessandro Pier GuidiRisi Competizione‘s Toni Vilander was fifth.

SMP Racing’s GT-Le Mans entry was expected to be up there as well.  Unfortunately, driver Gianmaria Bruni spun his Ferrari 488 GTE entering the infield and went hard into the wall to bring out the red flag.  Bruni was ok and the car went back out during the night practice session after repairs to shake out the cobwebs.

The Prototype Challenge teams are the only ones without access to traction control at the moment.  As a result, the session (despite the first half of it being the driest part of qualifying) was dicey.  Starworks Motorsport‘s Sean Johnston had an off-course excursion in the infield, while others slipped and skipped around the circuit.

BAR1 Motorsport’s Johnny Mowlem was the first driver out and on his fifth lap, Mowlem turned in a lap of 2:05.708 (101.951 mph).  This lap, eighth fastest overall, was actually the fastest prototype lap turned in qualifying and it was more than good enough to give Mowlem his second consecutive Rolex 24 PC pole.

Mowlem’s lap was 1.7 seconds faster than Stephen Simpson in the JDC/Miller MotorSports No. 85 in second.  Mowlem’s teammate, Ryan Eversley, qualified the No. 26 entry third in class.

In GT-Daytona, Park Place MotorsportsNorbert Siedler abided the treacherous conditions and posted a lap of 2:05.798 (101.878 mph) to top the charts early in the session and allowed the other teams to take shots at him.  However, no one could top the German veteran, who earned his second consecutive GTD-class pole (in similar conditions, he won the GTD-class pole at last year’s Petit Le Mans).  The lap ultimately ended up tenth overall in qualifying.

Siedler was five-and-a-half tenths of a second faster than Konrad Motorsport‘s No. 28 Lamborghini Huracan GT3.  Leh Keen was third quickest in the WeatherTech-sponsored No. 22 Porsche 911 GT3-R for Alex Job RacingDamien Faulkner in Riley Motorsports‘ No. 93 and Sven Müller for IMSA-debutante Frikadelli Racing rounded out the top 5.

The WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams have one more short practice session on Friday morning at 10:25 a.m.  That will be the teams’ only time on-track in the dry prior to the start of the race.


About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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