DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—The grid is set for the 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
In truth, the starting grid for a 24-hour race is basically meaningless—if there is a pileup at the start, the first few cars might avoid it, but there is rarely a pile-up because no one gets to o crazy at the start of a day-long endurance race.
Pole position for a 24-hour race like the Rolex is more about bragging rights, and having a reason to praise the crews. Some teams don’t even try to contest qualifying, preferring to work on their race set-ups. Some teams use their quickest drivers, some teams don’t.
Still, qualifying is the first time fans and teams get to see what the cars can really do—at least, the cars from teams which make the effort.
And some of those teams made most effective efforts.
Mustang Sampling Wins Pole
Don’t let the name change fool you. Three-time champions Action Express are now called Mustang Sampling, but it is the same line-up of fast drivers in quick cars. At Rolex qualifying, the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DP1 V.R was in fact the quickest car breaking the 1:37 barrier which had failed to fall in all the prior practice sessions.
Driver Joao Barbosa turned in a lap of 1:36.903 at 1321.2 mph, the quickest qualifying time since the IMSA WeatherTech Championship started running.
“The tires took a bit to come up and once they were in, the car would do everything I wanted it to do,” Barbosa explained after the session ended. “It’s really cool to give Cadillac its first DPi pole position. It doesn’t matter how you start though, it matters how you finish. That’s the important thing this weekend.”
Dale Cameron in the sister car,the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac, was only seven hundredths of a second behind, with a lap of 1:36.973 at 132.1 mph. These were the only two cars to break 1:37.
Not even Rebellion Racing’s Neel Jani, who set fastest time in almost every session at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, was able to match the Cadillacs’ pace. Jani circled Daytona’s 3.56-mile track in 1:37.123 at 131.9 mph, only two-tenths slower than the leader. The Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson was the quickest of the LMP2 cadre.
One disappointment—the #81 Dragonspeed Oreca-Gibson which set the quickest lap at the Roar didn’t participate in qualifying. Loic Duval somehow managed to hit the wall leaving the pits during Practice Session 2, damaging the car so badly the team is forced to build up the spare monocoque.
The team will have plenty of time—the race does not start until Saturday afternoon—but will need to hurry if they want to make the final practice session Friday Morning.
Ford Sweeps GT Le Mans
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought four of its GT Le Mans-class Ford GTs to Daytona, hoping to duplicate the team’s victory at Le Mans.
Previous comments on qualifying nonwithstanding, one would have rate chances as highly favorable. The Blue Oval captured the top three places on the GTLM grid, led by Joey Hand in the #66 with a lap of 1:43.704 at 13.5 mph.
Behind Hand came Richard Westbrook and Olivier Pla in the #68 and #69 respectively. The final Ford, the #69 driven by Andy Priaulx, finished sixth in class.
Hand was predictably thrilled to be fastest, but more excited about the prospect of another race win.
“Since last year, we felt more confident with the cars. Last year [at the Rolex], we didn’t know what to expect. Now we have time on it—we finished a 24 hour race [Le Mans] and won. We’ve spent time on it made the car a little faster.
“Momentum is a lot in racing, you can say it’s about luck, but coming off a win and a good season, we just wanted to keep that going and win here.”
Ferrari 1–2 in GT Daytona
A pair of Ferrari 488s, albeit from different teams took the top two spots in GTD. Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 beat out Alessandro Balzan in the #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari by a mere 18 thousands of a second. Marco Sorensen in the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage qualified third, half a second back.
Per Guidi echoed the general sentiment that winning the pole is nice, but not important. “It’s always nice to be on board with this team. It’s a wonderful track with great history. It’s my fourth time for me here but it’s always special.
“I’ve never been on pole and Daytona is very nice. I want to say thanks to Ferrari and Speed of Race, they make a great car.
“The pole position on the 24 hour is nothing compared to winning the race, but it’s always great to be here.”
Performance Tech’s James French Turns in Winning Performance in PC
Performance Tech has been near the back of the Prototype Challenge for too long, its crew members apparently feel. This feeling was reflected in the dominant performance turned in by driver James French who took the class pole with a lap of 1:42.559 at 124.9 mph in the #38 Oreca-Chevrolet, nearly a second quicker than Johnny Mowlem in the #26 Bar1 Oreca.
Buddy Rice in the #20 Bar1 Oreca was third with a lap of 1:43.515
“[Mowlem] was definitely quicker in the first 5 or 6 laps, but then our car came in a lot and we were able to put in some really good times,” French said at the post-qualifying press conference.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona takes the green flag at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28. Tickets can be bought at the gate, online through the Daytona International Speedway website, and by phone at 1-800-PITSHOP.