At the very last moment Sunday (Jan. 22), Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s Tom Blomqvist, using fresh tires that weren’t fully up to temperature, claimed the pole for next weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Despite the new cars supposedly being slower by a couple of seconds as compared to the outgoing DPis, Blomqvist’s lap at 136.295 mph was three-thousandths of a second faster than last year’s pole lap from JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Tristan Vautier.
“[The lap] was a bit wild,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee afterwards. “I had to wing that one a bit. I knew that I had a good car. If it was under me, I could do the job, but the tires weren’t even up to temperature. It was a ‘lick the stamp and send it’ kind of thing.”
Most of the ROAR Before the 24 had been dominated by the two Acura ARX-06s. The early portion of the session was similar as Ricky Taylor and Blomqvist exchanged quick times while the other seven GTP teams sat back and waited.
Taylor set a lap at 135.914 mph eight minutes into the session to put himself at the top. He later improved to 136.054 mph.
With six minutes remaining, the red flag flew when Porsche Penske Motorsports’ Nick Tandy slid off-course in the Le Mans chicane and nosed into the tires. Tandy was able to extricate himself from the barrier and drive his Porsche 963 back to the pits, but was done for the session.
At the time, Tandy was fourth. However, as per IMSA rules, he loses his best two laps for bringing out the red flag. As a result, he will start at the rear of the GTP class next weekend.
The green came back out with only enough time for an out lap and one lap at speed. Everyone did their best to put their best foot forward.
Porsche Penske Motorsports’ Felipe Nasr was able to put himself on the provisional pole. However, Blomqvist had the fastest second sector of all, got through the chicane quickly and came back around to lock up the pole.
LMP2 teams are mandated to have their bronze-rated driver qualify. Such a rule does curb speeds to a certain extent, but high speeds were still reached.
Early on, High Class Racing’s Dennis Andersen was on top with PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports’ Ben Keating giving chase. Later on, Steven Thomas put his TDS Racing No. 11 on top despite the car visibly bouncing on the banking.
The session was red-flagged after a little over nine minutes due to two crashes that occurred almost simultaneously. First, John Farano spun the Tower Motorsports No. 8 and backed into the tire barrier in the Le Mans chicane. On the other side of the track, Proton Competition’s Fred Poordad slid off exiting the infield and went into the tires.
With some assistance, Poordad was able to get out of the tires and get back underway, albeit with a damaged nose. Farano was not so luck as the rear of his ORECA 07-Gibson was significantly damaged. He was ok and walked to the AMR Rapid Response Vehicle under his own power. The session did not resume after that point.
Prior to the stoppage, Keating had set a lap at 127.470 mph that was quickest in class. It was 1.210 seconds faster than Francois Heriau in the TDS Racing No. 35. Thomas was third, then Francois Perrodo and George Kurtz.
In LMP3, Performance Tech Motorsports’ Cameron Shields had been the quickest driver in class for most of the weekend. Here, Shields was once again fastest early on. However, he had competition.
Sean Creech Motorsport’s Nico Pino was able to set a lap at 124.190 mph with four minutes to go. Shields and the others attempted to best it, but could not prevent Pino from claiming the class pole.
Pino’s lap was .110 seconds quicker than Andretti Autosport’s Dakota Dickerson, who set his time right at the end of the session. Shields will start third, then MRS GT-Racing’s Guilherme de Oliveira and Riley Motorsports’ Gar Robinson.
There were two incidents during the LMP3 session, neither of which brought out a red flag. First, Andrew Wojteczko Autosport’s Anthony Mantella spun under braking for the International Horseshoe. Later on, JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Luca Mars went too quick into the Le Mans chicane, got extra bouncy and spun out on his final lap.
In the GT ranks, 33 teams took to the track for 15 minutes of qualifying. Getting a clean lap with that amount of traffic is a challenge.
Late in the session, the Mercedes-AMG GT3s came to life. First, SunEnergy1 Racing’s Fabian Schiller went to the top of the chart. With three minutes to go, Winward Racing’s Philip Ellis set a lap at 120.602 mph. That lap held up to give Ellis the class pole.
Ellis’ lap was .045 seconds quicker than Schiller. Team Korthoff Motorsports’ Mikael Grenier will start third, then Marcelli and Farnbacher.
In GTD Pro, TeamTGM’s Owen Trinkler set the early pace in his Aston Martin Vantage GT3, turning in the first lap of the session under 110 seconds. Later on, much like in the GTD session, the Mercedes of WeatherTech Racing’s Maro Engel came to play.
Engel set a lap at 120.018 mph to win the GTD Pro pole. Despite that, Engel’s lap was only good enough for fourth of the GT drivers, nearly seven-tenths of a second slower than Ellis.
Engel’s lap was .041 seconds quicker than The Heart of Racing’s Ross Gunn, who was the first non-Mercedes GT driver. VasserSullivan’s Ben Barnicoat qualified third, then Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia. Trinkler ended up fifth.
There were no red flags in GT qualifying, but right at the end of the session, US RaceTronics’ Misha Goikhberg slid into the grass in the Le Mans chicane. He then pulled off-course afterwards with a potential mechanical issue.
About the author
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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