Qualifying for the Acura Sports Car Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio was a celebration of the event’s title sponsor as Acura Team Penske continued its dominance with its fourth consecutive 1-2 finish since opening practice on Friday.
The battle for pole was waged between Penske old and new guard as 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title winner Dane Cameron and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves traded fastest laps. The score was settled as the 15-minute session drew to a close with Castroneves on top in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 (1m11.837s), and while Cameron was keen to take one more shot at pole, he had to settle for second (+0.147s) as the Japanese brand and hundreds of employees from its Ohio plant watched the duo lock out the front row on their behalf.
“Oh my God, first of all it was actually incredible,” Castroneves said. “All thanks for Acura Team Penske. Dane was pushing really hard and that gave me a bit of an inspiration to try and give it everything I could. And the fact the track is sponsored by Acura but not only that but the factory is just a few miles from here. And it’s also Team Penske, we are really serious, we’re making things happen and the result (today). We haven’t shown the result (in races) we’ve been hoping but things happen, but right now we have it, at least at this place. Hopefully we’re going to continue one two, just the same way.”
Following a recent test at Mid-Ohio in similar overcast conditions, the Penske team applied those lessons to put a fair amount of distance between themselves and Mazda Team Joest, which took the second row. Behind Cameron, the rising fortunes for Mazda’s RT24-P DPis were demonstrated by Oliver Jarvis in the No. 77 entry (+0.502s) and teammate Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 55 Mazda (+0.759s).
“It’s good progress for us,” said Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan.
Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande completed the top five with his No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R (+0.763s).
GT Le Mans qualifying produced a genuine surprise with BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards taking pole in his No. 24 BMW M8 GTE (1m17.853s) after Porsche swept the first three sessions of the weekend. Porsche GT Team’s Nick Tandy was only a tiny margin behind in his No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR (+0.066s), but Edwards’ pole wasn’t a fluke; the sister No. 25 BMW with Alexander Sims behind the wheel almost made it a 1-2 for the German manufacturer (+0.079s).
“Yeah, when I knew it had been that long I guess I had a little extra motivation for today,” Edwards said after ending a pole drought of 12 months. “I haven’t been qualifying lately, you get used to watching. And then you have to do it again and you go OK, have to remember how to bring the tires in and that’s a little difficult because in the race you go flat out from the beginning and maintain pace on the out-lap. In qualifying you bring the tires in a different way.”
The Lexus Racing 3GT team, which joined Acura at the aforementioned Mid-Ohio test, joined in the 1-2 fun as Jack Hawksworth put the No. 15 Lexus RC F on pole (1m19.317s) after edging teammate Kyle Marcell in the No. 14 (+0.053s). The big V8-powered Japanese models gapped the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 entry driven by Madison Snow with ease (+0.565s).
“Yeah, it was a good day for the team, that was obviously good for Lexus and shows the work the 3GT team have put in,” Hawksworth said. “We tested a week, two weeks ago and we knew both cars were running very well at this track and we knew we had to capitalize. Both cars have a slightly different strategy for tomorrow compared to the other ones and we’re hoping for more of a green race, and we’ve got good options for both cars.”
With the threat of rain in the forecast late in the afternoon race, IMSA’s return to Mid-Ohio should be anything but boring once the green flag waves at 1 p.m. ET.