Records were smashed in Friday afternoon qualifying for Saturday’s 1h40m race for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, with Sebastien Bourdais claiming the pole in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac. Bourdais’s 1m09.472s lap was nearly two seconds quicker than the old record — a 101.98mph average speed. Alex Lynn turned a lap of 1m09.833s to lock out the front row for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Tom Blomqvist put in an impressive performance to qualify the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura in third with a 1m09.939s lap. Pipo Derani, who led the first practice and much of the qualifying session, will start fourth in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac he’ll share with Tristan Nunez.
“We’re running a road course tire on a street course so it’s quite a harder tire than probably it could be for places like this,” speculated Bourdais on what enabled the record runs. “I think super unusual high temperatures really helped to get the tire in that window; that kind of more optimal window for for the cars. The grip was really amazing; The feel was was really good.”
Bourdais and Renger van der Zande now face the task of converting a good qualifying session into good race results — something that didn’t happen at Sebring — where Bourdais also took the pole.
“Just really looking for a different outcome because, so far, we’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit with mechanical issues. Obviously nothing to do with Cadillac — just issues on our end — so we really need to clean up our game and put an event together, and I really hope it’s gonna happen tomorrow,” Bourdais said.
Jordan Taylor pulled out a flyer on his last opportunity — his 11th lap of the 15-minute session — to claim the GTD PRO pole for Corvette Racing. That pushed BMW Team RLL’s Connor De Phillipi, who had looked ready to claim the pole, down to second. Taylor smashed the old qualifying record of 1m18.957s with a 1m18.048s lap, an average speed of 90.77mph. De Phillipi fell 0.067s short of claiming BMW’s first pole with the new BMW M4 GT3.
“Yeah, we definitely put a lot of emphasis on qualifying around here because it’s so difficult to pass, especially now adding on ABS [making] it even tougher,” Taylor explained. “Practice one didn’t go that well; Practice two, we made some changes and got close to the front of the field and qualifying was super tight. I thought my first 18.1s was quite a good lap, and I wasn’t sure I was gonna be able to beat it, so I was quite disappointed when I heard on the radio that we’re six hundredths off. So I kept trying and slowing down, trying and slowing down…then I knew in Turns 9 and 10 [that] I made little mistakes like the 18.2 on, I guess, my second-to-last lap. I think I got Turn 10-11 right which kind of made a little difference. So yeah, it was tight.”
Mathieu Jaminet had a big slide in the final corners to scupper his best effort at claiming the pole and ended up third in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. Ross Gunn will line up outside of the second GT row after having a lap time deleted due to a pit lane exit violation – putting the right side of the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage over the pit-exit blend line prior to Turn 1 turn-in. Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F also had a time deleted and will start fifth in GTD PRO, seventh overall among the GT cars. Cooper MacNeil in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG also fell afoul of the rule.
Instead of De Phillipi, the honor of the first pole for the BMW M4 GT3 goes to Madison Snow in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing M4. In only the team’s second race with the car, having not taken delivery of it until after the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Snow battled back and forth for the GTD pole all session with Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW. Snow’s 1m18.487s (90.27mph) was 0.112s quicker than Foley. Snow and Foley will start fifth and sixth among the GT cars, as GTD PRO and GTD are not separated for race starts.
“I was incredibly nervous going into qualifying on a street course,” said Snow. “This car definitely feels wide and only racing Sebring before…Where exactly are the corners on the car, and are we going to find out in qualifying? Thankfully we didn’t hit anything there but it’s been a good car for us. We learned what it was like over the bumps at Sebring, so coming here, we knew how it would be behave. I ended up on pole early in the session, and then wanted to come in but my engineer told me I needed to stay on track. I listened to him, and the other BMW ended up getting me by a tenth or two, and so I ended up able to go around one more lap at the very end there.”
Mike Skeen was third in GTD with a 1m18.918s in the Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG, followed by Jon Miller in the NO. 59 Crucial Motorsports McLaren 720S. Russell Ward, who left the second practice session early after lightly hitting the wall with the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG, will start fifth in GTD, followed by Marc Miller in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX. The top 10 GTD qualifiers were within a second.
The weather for the race will be considerably different from today’s mid-90-degree temperatures — some 20 degrees cooler — so the drivers and team won’t be be fully sure what to expect, especially when it comes to tire behavior. Add in the fact that there is drifting Friday night, along with IndyCar practice and Porsche Carrera Cup race in between, and the drivers could be looking at a very different circuit than the one on which they qualified.
Next Up: The first sprint race of the season; 1h40m on the streets of Long Beach at 2 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The race will be carried live on USA Network and on IMSA Radio.