Fast from the drop of the green flag, Christian Fittipaldi kept improving to give the Corvette DP its first TOTAL Pole Award of the season in Friday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying for the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.
Fittipaldi improved his best lap four times before posting a time of 1:14.962 (94.512 mph) in Action Express Racing’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa. Fittipaldi edged out defending Long Beach winner Ricky Taylor by 0.171 seconds.
“There’s definitely a lot of history at Long Beach for myself and my family,” said Fittipaldi, who joined Barbosa in capturing the Prototype championship in both 2014 and 2015. “I’ve been coming here since ’95. (Uncle) Emerson has had success here. His last Formula One podium was here in 1980 in our own car (owned by Christian’s father Wilson Fittipaldi), and he’s had success here in Indy Cars. The California track in Fontana has been very good for me, but Long Beach has been hard for me and Action Express Racing. To stick a pole here at Long Beach is very important for me and my team.”
It was Fittipaldi’s third career TOTAL Pole Award, and first since winning the 2015 pole at Belle Isle in Detroit, the only other temporary circuit on the schedule.
“Starting on a pole on a street race definitely makes your life less hard,” Fittipaldi said. “I think we have a shot here – but it definitely won’t be easy.”
Taylor saved his best lap for last in the interrupted session, running 1:15.133 (94.297 mph) in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP co-driven by his brother Jordan. Third fastest was Tom Long, turning in the best qualifying effort for the Mazda Prototype with a lap of 1:15.641 (93.663 mph) in the No. 70 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda co-driven by Joel Miller.
The session was red flagged with 6:50 remaining when Marc Goossens spun in the hairpin in the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP and was hit by the No. 55 Mazda Prototype of Tristan Nunez. Qualifying resumed with 3:50 remaining, with Taylor’s fastest lap coming just before the checkered flag.
Goikhberg Awarded Pole In Shortened Prototype Challenge Session
Misha Goikhberg was awarded the pole for the WeatherTech Championship debut of the Prototype Challenge (PC) class at Long Beach following an abbreviated session.
Qualifying was red flagged with 7:10 remaining when Mark Kvamme came to a stop near the pit exit in the No. 88 Starworks Motorsport Popcorn Sutton ORECA FLM09 after contact with Robert Alon in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry. Kvamme sustained suspension damage and could not continue, and the incident could not be cleared before time expired in the qualifying session.
As a result, the PC grid was set by driver points. While Alon and co-driver Tom Kimber-Smith lead the PC standings, the car was moved to the back due to Alon being involved in the incident that brought out the red flag.
That moved the Rolex 24-winning No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA FLM09 of Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson to the pole. They will be joined on the front row by Alex Popow, who co-drives the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry with Renger van der Zande.
Prior to the stoppage, James French had the fastest early lap, running 1:17.910 (90.936 mph) in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
• Prior to scoring the team’s best qualifying result, Mazda Motorsports led an official WeatherTech Championship practice for the first time in Friday morning’s opening two-hour session. Jonathan Bomarito took top honors with a lap of 1:15.917 (93.323 mph) in the team’s No. 55 Mazda/Castrol/ModSpace LMP2 co-driven by Tristan Nunez.
“They’ve changed a few things on the track that have helped us,” Bomarito said. “We couldn’t use some of the big curbing they had last year, while the DPs could. That really hurt us, especially in Turn 8 coming onto the back straightaway. They eliminated the big curbs there, so now we can carry more speed and run right to the [inside] wall. It’s smoother and helps launch our car down that straight. So, just on track conditions versus last year, we’ve really closed the gap on the handling. The car’s running good; the team’s doing good. Everybody’s doing their job.”
With Mazda’s North American Operations based just down the road in nearby Irvine, Mazda Motorsports has plenty of motivation for this weekend. The team is expecting more than 400 Mazda employees and guests for Saturday’s race.
“We’ve paid our dues,” said SpeedSource owner Sylvain Tremblay, who debuted a diesel-powered version of the Prototype in 2014 WeatherTech Championship competition. “I’m happy for our guys, they deserve it. Today was only practice and qualifying; we’ve got to focus on tomorrow’s race.
• John Pew spun and impacted the tire barrier in Turn 9 one hour, 27 minutes into Friday morning’s two-hour practice session, bringing out the red flag. Pew was able to continue with minor damage. It was the first red flag/full course caution in WeatherTech Championship on-track activity at Long Beach in the three years of competition at the 1.968-mile temporary circuit.
• Ricky Taylor had his eyes on the pole before a slight mistake hurt his chances for a second-consecutive TOTAL Pole Award at Long Beach.
“The car was a pole car but, unfortunately, I hit the wall, which really messed up the toe and ruined our qualifying,” said Taylor. “I feel bad because it should have been an easy pole and I just went for too much too soon. If you’re going to hit the wall, you should hit it at the end, not at the beginning, so you can give yourself a chance. I guess that’s a little bit of a lesson, but the car was a pole car, for sure, which gives us confidence in the race. I’m going to try to get by him (pole-winner Fittipaldi). I know our pit stop will be faster, but I want to pass him on the track.”
• Live television coverage of the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach begins on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on FS2 and the FOX Sports GO app. FS1 will replay the event on Saturday at 11 p.m. ET and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET.