Mario Farnbacher’s new qualifying lap record gave Honda Team Motul pole position for the California 8 Hours after a thrilling Pole Shootout at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The German’s 1m23.156s lap in his NSX GT3 Evo — running as an Acura for the North American event — was two tenths quicker than Alex Buncombe’s KCMG Nissan, while Dries Vanthoor finished third aboard Audi Sport Team WRT’s new R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
As many different manufacturers also finished inside a top-six covered by less than 0.4s.
It was the perfect start for Honda, making its Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli debut, whose performance was equally remarkable given the car shared by Farnbacher, Bertrand Baguette and Renger van der Zande scraped through the day’s earlier qualifying session in 10th after missing the drop by just 0.005s.
“I’m not really sure where that came from! We had a lot of fuel onboard when I drove in qualifying earlier today, and around here that extra weight makes a big difference,” related Farnbacher. “We also fine-tuned the car after qualifying and I think the combination of the two has made the difference. But, honestly, we didn’t expect that sort of time — the other guys in the top three just said, ‘Wow, where did your time come from?!’ but obviously it’s cool to give Honda and Acura the qualifying lap record Laguna Seca, and especially on our Intercontinental GT Challenge debut.”
It wasn’t until the second half of Pole Shootout’s 15-minute session that the times really began to tumble. Walkenhorst Motorsport’s Mikkel Jensen was the first into the 1m23s bracket, but his lap merely kicked off a frenetic final seven minutes that initially saw provisional top spot change several times.
That was until Farnbacher unleashed the fastest time of the weekend so far, his 1m23.156s lap proving just 0.064s quicker than Mathieu Jaminet’s effort from earlier in the day and half-a-second up on Christopher Haase’s 2018 benchmark.
Buncombe set two times quick enough for second but ultimately finished 0.186s behind the NSX. His Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 lines up ahead of Vanthoor’s Audi, which relieved HubAuto’s Ferrari – driven by Nick Foster – on its final flying lap.
Behind, Bathurst winner Matt Campbell (Park Place Motorsports Porsche) shares row three with Jensen’s BMW, which lines up one place and just 0.011s ahead of Augusto Farfus’ Team Schnitzer M6.
Wright Motorsports’ Jaminet and KCMG’s Alex Imperatori had earlier set the two fastest times in qualifying but were unable to repeat their heroics en route to eighth and ninth in the Pole Shootout. Meanwhile, a wild ride for Raffaele Marciello confined Manufacturers’ Championship leader Mercedes-AMG to 10th after its three other entries failed to progress from qualifying.
GT4 was also decided during the morning’s three 15-minute sessions when PF Racing’s Ford Mustang crewed by Jade Buford, Chad McCumbee and James Pesek secured class pole position.
The average of each driver’s fastest time was 1.7s faster than TRG’s Porsche shared by Spencer Pumpelly, Jason Alexandridis and Chris Bellomo, while the RHC Jorgensen/Strom by Strom Motorsport BMW finished third.
Saturday’s California 8 Hours gets underway at 11:30 ET. Live coverage airs from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.