The overall pole for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans went to the driver and team atop the Prototype standings as Richard Westbrook stormed to P1 in his VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP. The Briton was in a class of his own as his pole lap (1:27.860) was out of reach by Christian Fittipaldi in the Action Express Racing Corvette DP (1:28.920) and Joey Hand in the Chip Ganassi Racing ford EcoBoost DP (1:29.627).
“It was a really good session, the car was good and gave me a lot of confidence. It was a lot of fun out there,” said Westbrook. “I know it’s a 10-hour race, but you want to be up front. We’ll take it and we’ve got a big job to do tomorrow.” A scant six-point lead in the Prototype standings means Westbrook and co-driver Michael Valiante will have to push to earn the title.
Prototype Challenge saw the pole change hands on the final lap as Bar1 Motorsports’ Johnny Mowlem robbed PR1/Mathiasen’s Tom Kimber-Smith as the checkered flag waved. Mowlem’s excitement was short-lived, however, as Kimber-Smith was completing his final tour and stole the pole back moments later. Kimber-Smith (1:32.378) cleared Mowlem (1:32.924) by a wide margin, and third-place PC qualifier Alex Popow in the Starworks Motorsport entry by an even bigger margin (1:33.903).
“These cars are particularly hard to drive in the dry, and in the wet, it’s even harder,” said the Englishman. “Really happy to do it. We’re here for a championship and that’s our main focus.”
The factory Porsche North America team blitzed GT Le Mans qualifying as Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy traded pole position in their sister Porsche 911 RSRs. Bamber then slid off with 9m59s gone in the 15-minute session, hitting the wall in Turn 4. Despite losing his fastest lap for bringing out a red flag, Bamber’s second-fastest lap was still good enough for pole (1:30.304), edging Tandy (1:30.398) and Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin (1:31.685).
The rear-engine Porsches have dominated the GTLM class in recent months, making the gap of more than one second to Corvette – and the rest of the factory cars – with ample downforce and traction less of a surprise on a wet track.
“There was a lot of aquaplaning; it’s tough,” said Tandy. “I’m happy to be first and second, put it that way.”
However, Tandy’s P2 car failed post-qualifying tech for being below the minimum ride height and will now have to start at the back of the class. The Porsche team also decided Bamber’s crash damage was too extensive to repair, and switched to a backup chassis. With that move, Bamber lost his pole and will join Tandy at the back of the GTLM pack. Thanks to the Porsche dramas, Gavin will start from pole.
Unfortunately, Bamber wasn’t the only Porsche driver to find the wall in qualifying. A spin and crash on Bryan Sellers’ first lap did enough damage to cause the Team Falken Tire 911 RSR miss the rest of qualifying. The damage was far more signifant than it looked during the impact, and it’s possible the chassis damage could lead to a long night of work to affect repairs.
Cameron Lawrence turned in an amazing performance to score his first GT Daytona pole, recording a 1m38.295s lap in the wet. Using spec Continental rain tires, Lawrence pushed his Riley Technologies Dodge Viper to a full 0.591s over Spencer Pumpelly in the Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America (1:38.886) and Leh Keen in the WeatherTech Racing/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America (1:38.899).
“We’re thrilled. To put it on pole for the team is awesome,” said Lawrence, who was part of the winning Rolex 24 at Daytona team in January.
With the field now set, IMSA fans have one more day to go until the 2015 season draws to a close. The 10-hour Petit Le Mans race starts at 11:10 a.m. ET, and tune-in information can be found below.
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