Helio Castroneves celebrated his pole position for Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Long Beach like it was his first. The bubbly three-time Indy 500 winner screamed in the cockpit, sprang from the car, and hugged everyone in sight after placing his No. 7 Acura ARX-05 at the front of the grid at the event sponsored by the Japanese brand.
The Brazilian’s lap was a monster (1m11.332s), displacing countryman and reigning IMSA Prototype champion Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Action Express Racing/Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R (+0.218s).
A happy third, but well behind the sister Acura driven by Castroneves, Juan Montoya secured third (0.515s) in the No. 6 entry. Montoya was flanked by the second AXR Cadillac, and behind them, both Mazdas locked out the third row for IMSA’s Bubba Burger Grand Prix.
“It was tough! All of a sudden the other competitors started pushing really hard,” said an energized Castroneves. “We’re happy to put it on pole. Let’s go right now!
“It’s a great start to the weekend for Acura, and Penske, and the entire organization,” a delighted Castroneves continued.
The GT Le Mans class pole wound down to a battle between Porsche GT Team’s Nick Tandy and Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin as the 15-minute session ticked into its final few seconds. Marginally faster than the V8-powered American machine, Tandy appeared safe in earning the first starting position with the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR until his teammate Laurens Vanthoor knocked Gavin off the front row to make it a Porsche 1-2 for the German brand.
Tandy (1m16.313s) narrowly edged Vanthoor’s No. 912 Porsche (+0.064s) and Gavin (+0.207s). In fourth, fastest of the Ford entries, was Sebastien Bourdais (+0.349s), who impressed after completing the morning IMSA practice session in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT, two IndyCar sessions in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda, and then qualifying in the Blue Oval machine he’s piloting in the absence of a flu-stricken Joey Hand.
“I thought I was going to hit the wall six or seven times on that lap,” Tandy told RACER. The pole was the third on the trot for the car he shares with Patrick Pilet.
“It was great. We made some changes after the practice session and it really worked,” he told IMSA Radio. “I’m surprised at the lap time we were able to do. Really happy — it’s obviously the best place to start [for] the shortest race of the year.”