DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Scott Pruett was quickest around Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile, twelve-turn roval (road track with sections of banked oval,) earning the No. 01 Telmex-Ganassi Riley BMW pole position for Saturday’s Grand Am Rolex 24 at Daytona.
No surprise there. Pruett and some of his co-drivers won in 2011; the rest finished second. In 2012 Pruett and company were leading the race when his transmission quit with just a few hours to go. And this year his team mate NASCAR’s Juan Pablo Montoya (part of the second-place 2011 team) was quickest in practice.
Pruett is looking for his fifth Rolex 24 win; he has the car, the crew, and the driver line-up to do it. Along with Montoya, Pruett is sharing the driver’s seat with his regular Rolex driving partner Memo Rojas, IndyCar champ Scott Dixon, and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball.
Pruett lapped the course in 1:40.553, averaging 103.56 mph.
“To come back here with Telmex and BMW is great,” Pruett told the post-qualifying press conference. “We knew we had a pretty good balance with the car, but I knew I had to yank one off. I gave it all I had, and took a few chances going through the bus stop.
“I don’t know how many more years I’ll be doing this, so I’ll see if I can start up near the front as much as I can. Winning the pole is big for us.
“A lot of people have been talking about a lot of sandbagging [deliberately slowing down to earn a favorable Balance of Performance (See below)], but I can absolutely tell you, we laid out all of our hand on the table for qualifying. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re racers.”
Scott Dixon, who is also driving the No. 02 Ganassi Riley-BMW, qualified that car second with a lap of 1:40.646, very close but not quite up to Pruett’s pace—not surprising, as the Riley-BMW is Pruett’s daily drive—he has used it or one like it to win most of his five Rolex series titles. Still, Dixon did quite well considering he is an open-wheel specialist.
“Qualifying was the first time I was in the car all week,” Dixon explained. “We’ve had a lot of problems with the steering and all kind of things, and even handling-wise, we haven’t done too well with that. I’m surprised we’re only a tenth off. I think the car’s going to be quick, but there still is some speed in our car.
“It’s good for Chip, having a front of row. It’s kind of funny. Both of our cars don’t even come to the open test (Roar Before the Rolex 24) very similar, and then we gravitate away from each other even more. I couldn’t even tell you what they’re [the No. 01] running.”
The Ganassi cars were the only ones of the 17 Daytona Prototypes which qualified to break into the 1:40s.
Third behind the two Telmex-Ganassi cars came Dane Cameron in the #42 Team Sahlen Riley BMW with a lap of 1:41.213. Cameron is a former GT driver stepping up to DPs, and he is stepping up strongly.
“I didn’t have any real expectations; it’s been pretty quick the last few official testing session, but that doesn’t mean anything until qualifying,” he told the press corp.
“Qualifying isn’t that representative of the race, but we’re really happy to be in the top three in our first time qualifying a Daytona Prototype for Team Sahlen. It’s a nice little reward for all the work that has gone into getting the program to this stage, so I’m pretty thankful of all my guys—and girl. So we’ll see what happens in the race.”
The girl he refers to is Katie Crawford, his engineer, who with her husband designed the Crawford DP chassis and now makes the Sahlen Riley quick. His driving partners are also very experienced: GT veteran Wayne Nonnemaker and ALMS P1 champ, IndyCar and former Peugeot factory driver Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud went quickest in night practice, but a lot of cars only did a few laps.
Balance of Performance
The three fastest cars get their engines from Dinan, a small engineering shop in California. Dinan got into trouble in 2010 when its engines were found to produce illegal amounts of torque.
This year, the Dinan BMW engines rev higher than everyone else’s—but this time it is allowed by the league.
Grand Am reserves the right to adjust the rules governing certain cars if those cars should prove to have too great an advantage over the rest of the field—this is call Balance of Performance, and is common to most racing series to one degree or another.
For 2013, Grand Am deemed that the Corvette and Ford engines were too powerful; so the series cut back the rev limit (how fast the engine can spin) by 300 rpm on the Fords, while boosting the Corvettes 100 rpm but shrinking their restrictors (cutting air to the motor, slightly strangling it. The BMW motors were boosted 200 rpm.
Now the Ford and Corvette teams—including 2012 winner and runner-up Michael Shank Racing and Starworks Motorsports—are working all night to put fresh engines in their cars, knowing they will need every advantage they can get.
It is possible that the series will rule that the BMW teams were hiding a little performance, and make another adjustment, but this close to the start of the race, it seems doubtful.
Note: According to John Dagys of Speed.com, the Corvette engines have had their restrictor enlarged, giving the Chevrolet-powered cars another four or five horsepower. The Ford engines remain unchanged.
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