Qualifying for Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans delivered on the promise of this morning’s speedy practice, with record laps set in all three classes.
The Prototype class had 11 cars under the DPi record, but proved a Nissan-vs Mazda battle for pole, with Pipo Derani’s mid-session lap of 1m10.437s just holding off the Mazda DPis of Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito by 0.124s and 0.163s respectively.
“It’s been awfully close, obviously, so anybody could get the pole, but Pipo did what Pipo does,” enthused team boss Scott Sharp.
Derani was clearly moved after taking his second pole of the year in what will be the Patron ESM team’s final appearance in the colors of its longtime sponsor, and in what will be the Brazilian’s final race with ESM before moving to Action Express for 2019.
“It’s been three emotional years with them — obviously we have the race to go, which I would love to win,” said Derani. “I’m really proud that I was able to be a part of this team. The memories, the friendships…and obviously moments like the one today.”
Bomarito’s hopes of pole for Mazda appeared to have evaporated early on when he slowed on course, but the Californian was able to recycle the car and get running again, and went on to crank out fast lap after fast lap to take the fight to Derani in the final moments.
In all, 11 Prototypes were under the class record.
Oddly, no GT Le Mans pole winners this year have won any of the first 10 races…which might explain why no one seemed to want to go out at the green flag for the class’ 15 minutes of qualifying. But when the action finally heated up, Antonio Garcia continued the Corvette surge to the top spot…only to be edged aside moments later by John Edwards, parlaying a brilliant final sector to put the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE on top by just 0.024s, at 1m17.006s.
“The cars are getting quicker and quicker every year. It wasn’t long ago there was a big difference between the GT cars and the Prototypes, but now we’re faster than the older Prototypes,” noted Edwards, who’ll share driving duties with Australia’s Supercars ace Chaz Mostert and Jesse Krohn. “We knew it would be really close; the important thing is that we are in the window — it didn’t really matter if we qualified first, fourth or fifth. The important thing tomorrow will be who executes the best.”
Knowing he and Jan Magnussen just need to finish fourth to take the title obviously changes the tactical approach for Corvette Racing — but not too much, cautioned Garcia. “If you think too much about that, you’ll probably end up finishing fifth,” he said. “So, we have to focus on the win.”
The Porsche 911s of Earl Bamber and Patrick Pilet bracketed the No. 67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook to round out the top 5.
The record party started earlier in the GT Daytona class, as Bryan Sellars broke the class mark on his second timed lap. Still, he found himself pushed down to fifth by the end. Daniel Serra eventually put his name in the record book, topping the 15-minute session with a 1m19.695s in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Jack Hawksworth was just 0.037s back in the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus, with the defending champ Land Motorsport Audi qualified by Sheldon van der Linde just another 0.049s further behind.
“The car was perfect,” enthused Serra, who’ll share the car with Gunnar Jeannette and Cooper MacNeil. It was the Brazilian’s third pole in as many races this year in a Ferrari!
Ben Keating stopped on course in the Riley Technology Mercedes, triggering a red flag that forfeited the car’s times. The Wright Motorsports Porsche didn’t even go out, figuring a fresh set of tires for the race was worth more than a higher grid sport in the 10-hour enduro.
UP NEXT: Warm-up at 8:30 a.m. ET; race start at 11:05 a.m. ET