IMSA’s GT Le Mans runners were left to work with a fully wet track surface in qualifying at Virginia International Raceway, and when the intense session was over, it was Ford Chip Ganassi Racing rainmeister Richard Westbrook who earned overall pole for Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge.
“It was great fun,” said the Briton, who moved into the class lead with six career GTLM poles. “We left it late, but there was no need to panic. I wanted to go for it on slicks, but they said no. I think we got it just right. I love the wet. It’s pretty tricky so you’ve got grip then you don’t have grip. At this stage of the season, I’d say it’s an important pole.”
Following the GT Daytona class that was able to get by on Continental’s slick tires in the qualifying process, GTLM teams went out on Michelin’s rain tires and witness most drivers venturing onto the grass, spinning, or sliding off into the tire barriers.
As surface conditions began to improve towards the end of GTLM time trials, Westbrook (1m55.580s) put in an untouchable lap with his championship-leading Ford GT. BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards, who went off almost immediately at the start of the session, would recover to run second until Porsche’s Patrick Pilet knocked Edwards’ BMW M8 GTE to third on the final lap.
Pilet, also known for his talent in the rain, was nowhere near Westbrook (+0.590s) in his Porsche 911 RSR, but it was just good enough to displace Edwards (+0.605s) in third.
Due to IMSA’s regulations, the entire GTLM field will start ahead of GTD, despite the Pro-Am cars out-pacing their factory counterparts by more than 10 seconds per lap in qualifying.
The streaking 3GT Lexus RC Fs and the team’s fastest driver, Jack Hawksworth, took another pole in GTD after the Michigan-based outfit put a new chassis under the Briton to close the season.
Hawksworth (1m44.107s) was able to set the best GTD lap of the weekend before light rain began to fall, and despite taking multiple shots at the Briton’s lap time, he secured his fourth IMSA pole of 2018.
“In these conditions anything can happen,” Hawksworth said. “It didn’t look like it was going to rain until we were out there. Our initial plan in the session was to do a couple laps to warm the tires up, get everything ready and then go for a lap. Obviously, once we saw it spitting (rain) I think everyone realized we needed to go out there and do a lap. The car was very good and I was able to put it on the pole. The guys have done a fantastic job. The car has been running well all weekend and I’m very fortunate to get a pole and also deserved for the hard work everyone on the team is doing.”
Riley Motorsports and Holland’s Jeroen Bleekemolen were second (+0.216s) in the menacing the Mercedes-AMG GT3, and Turner Motorsport’s Bill Auberlen (+0.253s) wasn’t far behind in third with the team’s BMW M6 GT3.