WTR Acura wins Rolex 24 qualifying race

Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

WTR Acura wins Rolex 24 qualifying race


WTR Acura wins Rolex 24 qualifying race


Daytona aces Wayne Taylor Racing, defending champions of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, came from last to first in the caution-free 100-minute qualifying race for next weekend’s Rolex 24 to put the No. 60 KonicaMinolta Racing Acura on pole for next weekend’s race.

Ricky Taylor in the No. 60 and Richard Westbrook, in the No. 5 JDC MillerMotorsports Cadillac that his co-driver Tristan Vautier put on pole for the qualifying race, battled for the last half hour. Traffic continually played a part as the fight compressed and expanded, with Westbrook making several attempts at Taylor in Turn 6 that leads onto the banking out of the infield, but could never make it stick. It finally came to a head on the final lap when Westbrook came from a long way back to try to stick his Cadillac into a quickly closing gap that Taylor had left on the inside entering Turn 1; Westbrook’s nose made contact with Taylor’s left rear, but it was Westbrook that got the worst of it, spinning. He recovered to keep second ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac that he shared with Jimmie Johnson.

“I’m really excited,” said team principal Wayne Taylor. “We had a tough weekend and the race certainly wasn’t easy. Westbrook was pushing really hard there, but Ricky kept him off and won the race, and that’s all I care about.”

The No. 10 Acura started last in the seven-car DPi field due to a rear-wing angle out of specification. Taylor pitted early — although not as early as the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Pipo Derani and Tristan Nunez, which had to save fuel at the end. Taking the middle stint, Albuquerque used traffic to move toward the front. Running a long stint and making the final pit stop last helped put them out front for the final stint.

The 35 points for the pole isn’t huge in the grand scheme of things, but last year’s margin in the championship was 11 points, and it was Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr who took the 35 points last year and won the championship over Taylor and Albuquereque.

“It doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of the championship,” said Ricky Taylor. “It just goes to show how everybody are purely racers here and you’re going to give 100 percent; whether it’s 35 points or 350 points, the effort is the same.”

The LMP2 polesitters, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen, had a relatively uneventful cruise from pole for the qualifying race to pole for the 24, although Keating admitted he started the race in the wrong gear. It was a one-two for PR1 Mathiasen, as Jonathan Bomarito, in the No. 11 Oreca he was driving with Steven Thomas,  fended off a late charge by Rene Rast, who set the fastest lap in the No. 68 G-Drive Racing by APR Oreca that Francois Heriau started.

Having started, Keating was left to watch the battle between Taylor and Westbrook, whom he will partner with in the No. 5 Cadillac for the 24, battle.

“It was really fun to watch,” he said. “Luckily our race was a little less exciting. We had enough of a gap that we weren’t too worried.”

The LMP3 field thinned out quickly, some through mechanicals and some apparently by choice, and three cars were lefty running somewhat competitively. Josh Burdon and Jarett Andretti brought the No. 36 Andretti Autosport Ligier home first by more than a minute over the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine of Moritz Kranz and Ayrton Ori. Kuno Wittmer and Orey Fidani were third in the No. 13 AWA Duqueine, a lap down.

In a close contest that saw the top three often covered by a second, the new GTD Pro class put on a show in its first race, the 100-minute qualifying race to set the grid for next week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Andrea Caldarelli and Mirko Bortolotti took the No. 63 TR3 Racing Lamborghini Huracan to the front and the pole for GTD Pro, while Russell Ward and Lucas Auer took the race win and 24 pole for defending champions Winward Racing in the No. 57 Mercedes AMG.

Caldarelli started the Lamborghini in third in GTD Pro, fifth in GTD overall. Polesitters Alexandre Imperatori and Patrick Pilet in the No. 2 KCMG Porsche 911 GT3R were strong, but were waylaid by a faulty fuel rig that cost them 30 seconds in the pits. The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche at the hands of Felipe Nasr, handed over from Mathieu Jaminet, took its turn at the front, but was soon joined by Alessio Picariello in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche, started by Julien Andlauer in ninth, and Bortolotti.

Picariello first got by Nasr, followed by Bortolotti. Bortolotti then went on the hunt, passing Picariello inside at Turn 6 with about 15 minutes left in the race. It was a bit of redemption for the No. 63 Lamborghini, which had been at the front of most sessions during the Roar, but lost out in qualifying.
Ward missed out on the GTD pole for the qualifying race, taken by Kenny Habul in the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes AMG, but Habul faded quickly at the start. Auer was left to defend the lead in the late stages from Paul Holton in the No. 59 Crucial Racing McLaren 720S that Jon Miller started third overall. Auer held him off so that he, Ward, Philip Ellis and Mikael Grenier will have pole for the Rolex next weekend. Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick were third in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche.

The new GTD Pro cars continued to struggle. The Corvettes, converted from GTLM specs, received a larger restrictor plate yesterday, but still finished mid-pack. The pair of BMW Team RLL M4s were 12th and 13th in the 13-car field.