Alvaro Parente earned his first career Pirelli World Challenge pole Saturday in his first run at Long Beach, turning a 1m18.947s lap in his McLaren 650S GT3 to break the track record Olivier Beretta set here last year in his Ferrari 458 GT3. It was a tight group, as the top three qualifiers were separated by just .040 seconds.
“The best thing is we took advantage of free practice 1, we have a good plan on how we want to learn and get to know the tracks as fast as possible and adapt quick,” he said. “Since FP1 we’ve been doing very well.”
Johnny O’Connell’s Cadillac ATS-V.R. GT3 will start on the front row alongside Parente for Sunday’s race after a 1m18.955s lap during the 30-minute session.
“There is no strategy for a race like this,” said O’Connell, who set his fast lap early in the session. “Long Beach is a UFC cage fight at 170mph. You have to run as hard as you can, hit your marks and make no mistakes for 50 minutes. Usually we are pretty good at that on race weekends.”
Colin Thompson, Parente’s teammate, was third fastest, just .033 slower than O’Connell.
“I saw 18.9 and they came over the radio and said P3 and I was like, ‘P3!’ 18.9’s P3? Half a tenth is the difference,” said Thompson, who sits eighth in championship points standings. “Just an amazing experience.”
The top four qualifiers bested Paretta’s 1m19.313 record set last year.
Parente had earned one top-3 finish and three top-10s in his four PWC starts. A veteran of racing overseas, he’s quickly adapted to the U.S. tracks.
“The series is very competitive,” Parente said. “It’s [been] very challenging for me with all these new tracks, new kind of mentality in some areas as we’ve seen some stuff I’ve never done before even though I’ve got a very long racing career already. “
“[A win at Long Beach] would mean a lot. Really enjoying this track. My family’s here – normally they can’t come – so it would be very, very good.”
Martin Fuentes (RIGHT), who was the only GTA car in the first group, was the quickest in category. He will start seventh. The next-highest GTA qualifier was Frankie Montecalvo, who will start 13th.
The second qualifying session saw Austin Cindric find the tire barrier, but the 17-year-old was able to get the car going and managed the 10th-best time. Bill Sweedler also pulled off to side late in the session. He will start 19th.
Michael Cooper, who holds a two-point championship lead over his teammate O’Connell, will start last after failing to set a time. The Cadillac Racing team found the wastegate was stuck open and could not attempt a lap.