In a “systems check” practice just prior to the beginning of qualifying for the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona, Felipe Nasr in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports 963 turned the fastest GTP time of the weekend, a 1m34.926s. When it came to what turned out to be a quite dramatic qualifying session, however, Tom Blomqvist and Meyer Shank Racing did what they have done all weekend, setting the fast lap of the session and claiming a historic first pole for the new era of Grand Touring Prototype in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. His 1m34.031s lap in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06, an average of 136.295mph around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course, was 0.003s quicker than last year’s DPi pole, dispelling the idea that the GTP cars would be significantly slower – at Daytona anyway.
Nick Tandy, who had been third quick in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports 936, crashed heading into the Le Mans Chicane – likely helped by a gusty tailwind foreshadowed in LMP2 qualifying – causing a red flag and setting up a dramatic single-lap attempt for several cars. After a couple of laps, MSR had put new tires on the No. 60 – allowed this year due to a rule change – and Blomqvist hadn’t had time to get a flyer. Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh had also just gone out and didn’t have a representative lap.
At the point of Tandy’s crash, Ricky Taylor was the fast qualifier in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport Acura, having set the fastest time of the weekend so far and lowering it on subsequent laps. When qualifying resumed, there was just enough time for the drivers to get in one last flyer, setting up a dramatic finish. First Nasr went faster than Taylor with a 1m34.114s lap, but with the clock having expired and the checker waving, Blomqvist came through with a time 0.083s faster to claim the pole.
“That red flag came basically before I had done any proper running,” Blomqvist said. “So I’m very grateful that I was able to at least get one lap at it. It was probably one of the most, I would say, difficult sessions I’ve done because my tires weren’t exactly fully ready and I didn’t have much of a good real reference to go off. I kind of had to wing it a little bit. It helps that I’ve had such a fantastic car under me and everything’s been going so well, and it’s enabled me to obviously have a lot of confidence.”
Taylor’s 1m34.198s time was good for third. Bourdais made the best of his single lap to put the CGR Cadillac on the outside of the second row. Cadillacs will fill the row behind, Alex Lynn in the No. 02 CGR car in fifth and Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac in sixth. The two BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8s will make up the fourth row, Philipp Eng in the No. 24 edging out Nick Yelloly in the No. 25. The top eight were covered by 0.815s, Tandy out of that range after losing his best two times due to bringing out a red flag.
LMP2 qualifying was interrupted about 10 minutes into the session when defending LMP2 champ John Farano crashed the No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA in the Le Mans Chicane. At that point, Ben Keating had done the best work, sitting on top of the field by more than a second, later saying the wind blowing harder and in the opposite direction than it had all weekend made the Chicane trickier. Keating turned a 1m40.541s (127.470mph) lap in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA for the LMP2 pole, his 10th in IMSA competition.
“I felt like this was one of the more tricky qualifying sessions,” Keating explained. “I think every car I’ve ever driven here is always on the edge in the Bus Stop, but all weekend we’ve had a slight headwind going into the Bus Stop. Yesterday we had about 7- or 8mph headwind going through there and that makes a huge difference on the downforce and making the transition there. Today we had a tailwind. A 28mph difference was a huge difference in our car and it was really really tricky out there today. I was not surprised to see a car go off there. I’m not surprised to see a GTP car go off there because it was quite dramatic for us.
“But if we had a tailwind at the Bus Stop it also meant we had a headwind going on the front straightaway. I got our nice tow all the way around from my buddy Stephen Thomas, and that made about 0.5s worth of difference. I feel like it really paid to know the weather today.”
Francis Heriau qualified second in the No. 35 TDS Racing ORECA at 1m41.751s, just beating the sister No. 11 car with Steven Thomas at the wheel by 0.062s. Francois Perrodo qualified fourth in the No. 88 AF Corse entry.
Nico Pino beat Dakota Dickerson to the LMP3 pole for Sean Creech Motorsports, qualifying the No. 33 Ligier at 1m43.197s (124.190mph). It was his first pole in car racing. Dickerson was 0.110s back to put the No. 36 Andretti Autosport Ligier in second. Cameron Shields (No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier) and Guilherme de Oliveira (No. 43 MRS-GT Ligier) were third and fourth.
For the first time, there was no restriction on who could qualify in GTD, and that played significantly into the qualifying results for the class. Where in the past the qualifying driver had to be the “Am” driver, a Silver or Bronze according to the FIA driver rankings, any driver could qualify in GTD. Not only did that mean that Gold and Platinum factory aces were qualifying in GTD, but also mixed up the GTD and GTD PRO grid much more than was seen at most races last year.
The top three cars were all GTD machines, and all Mercedes-AMG, led by Philip Ellis for Winward Racing. Ellis posted a 1m46.093s lap in the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG, good for a 120.8mph average. Fabian Schiller put the last-minute-entry No. 75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG on the front row alongside Ellis, 0.219s off Ellis’s time. Mikael Grenier was third at 1m46.705s in the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG.
“I think, especially the last half of the last season, we were really, really strong and the plan was basically to keep that momentum going into this year,” Said Ellis. “And, of course, the team did a great work in the offseason. We worked a lot on the car and in the winter, and it shows. I think all the Mercedes did a great job.”
The two Acura NSX GT3 Evo22s completed the GTD top five. Kyle Marcelli was fourth and will start the No. 93 Racers Edge with WTR NSX, a Michelin Endurance Cup-only entry, outside the third row of the GT cars. Mario Farnbacher put the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura on the outside of the fourth row.
Maro Engel added to the Mercedes-AMG sweep of GTD by putting the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG on the GTD PRO pole. Engel’s 1m46.784 (120.018mph) lap puts him on the outside of the second row and gave Mercedes-AMG a lock on the first two GT rows. In an interesting twist, the two GT polesitters have won the Rolex 24 together, winning GTD for Winward in 2021.
“We definitely have an amazing car that’s for sure,” Engel declared. “The Mercedes AMG is a car that’s well adapted to all forms of racing we do in GT racing. So long distance racing, 24 hour racing, as well as the sprint rounds, and it’s it’s always a car that is confidence inspiring, so I definitely have to thank Mercedes AMG for that. But also, equally, I think all four of the teams did a did a really good job today. I think it’s clear when you look at the results sheets that you know, we were told to push. I’m not sure if that’s the case across the grid. I’m sure there’s a few competitors that will suddenly find some pace next week. But overall, it was it was a strong call from the team and you have some room to improve for us. For me personally, I like qualifying, and obviously that was enough for poll, so that’s great.”
Ross Gunn qualified second in GTD PRO in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage, only 0.041s off Engel, and will start on the inside of the third row. Ben Barnicoat was third, with GTD fourth-place qualifier Marcelli in between him and Gunn, turning a 1m46.923s lap in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. The next three driver in GTD PRO were another four cars back, Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette the best of the bunch, 12th overall in the GT cars. Owen Trinkler in the No. 64 TGM/TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage and Andrea Caldarelli in the No. 63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracán Evo2 will make up the seventh GT row, 13th and 14th overall.
The new GT3 cars continued to struggle, with the best Porsche 911 GT3 being Jan Heylen in 21st among the 33 GT cars. The Ferrari 296 GT3 runners didn’t fare much better, Antonio Fuoco the highest Ferrari qualifier in the No. 47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari with ninth in GTD and 15th GT overall.
Teams have a few days off before practice begins again on Thursday, with the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona scheduled to go green at 1:40 p.m. ET on Saturday.