Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Barbosa, Cadillac dominate Rolex 24 qualifying

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated proceedings on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, with top three sweeps in both practice sessions before Joao Barbosa took the Action Express-run No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac to pole position for the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Barbosa has taken the overall pole with James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Alessandro Pier Guidi (GTD) taking the other class pole positions.

P

What appeared to be a near unassailable 1:37.169 lap set by Ricky Taylor was eclipsed by the rapid Portuguese driver, with Barbosa setting a 1:36.903 lap around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway. This sees the Cadillac on pole for the debut of the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform, which premieres alongside new-for-2017 LMP2-spec cars.

The second Action Express entry, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, ended within a tenth of Barbosa in second place. Dane Cameron shot up to second at 1:36.973 right near the end of the session, and will start second for the first race of his Prototype class title defense in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Barbosa shares his No. 5 car with longtime co-driver Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque, while Cameron is in the No. 31 car with Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Seb Morris.

Neel Jani took the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson up to third right at the end of the session at 1:37.123, with Taylor’s early flier leaving him only fourth.

Jani shares his car with Stephane Sarrazin, Sebastien Buemi and Nick Heidfeld while Taylor will share the No. 10 car with brother Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli in his final start and Jeff Gordon in his first Rolex 24 start in 10 years.

Brendon Hartley did well to take the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi up to fifth on the grid. The best of the Mazda RT24-Ps was only ninth, while the sole Ligier JS P217 from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports was eighth and the sole Riley Mk. 30 from VISIT FLORIDA Racing was 11th. DragonSpeed will start from the rear of the Prototype field following a crash in second practice, and did not partake in qualifying.

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The lone team with one car in Prototype Challenge, Performance Tech Motorsports, saw off the two teams fielding two cars to secure the pole position for the class’ final Rolex 24.

James French clocked a 1:42.559 in the No. 38 Oreca FLM09, which was more than eight tenths quicker than veteran Johnny Mowlem. French shares the No. 38 car with Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward and Nick Boulle.

Mowlem is back for one more, final final, go-’round in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports entry. He had announced his retirement following last year’s Petit Le Mans but has come back to Brian Alder’s team. He won the 2015 and 2016 poles here.

“I can say this is officially my last race; Sebring was offered but I said no,” Mowlem told IMSA Radio after the session. “If there was no watch to win, I wouldn’t be here!”

The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2009 Rolex 24 overall co-winner, Buddy Rice, was third in the second BAR1 entry. Incidentally, Rice is set for a full-time driving return for the first time in nearly a decade.

GTLM

In GT Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs dominated qualifying, with a 1-2-3 sweep in class.

Joey Hand, who will share the team’s No. 66 Ford with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, took the top spot at 1:43.473. That trio was the winning lineup at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and look to follow that up with a Rolex 24 win this weekend.

The Nos. 67 (qualified by Richard Westbrook) and No. 68 (Olivier Pla) Fords were second and third, within 0.231 and 0.514 of a second, respectively.

Toni Vilander was the top non-Ford in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, fourth at 1:44.121 and 0.628 of a second back, while Patrick Pilet qualified fifth in the new No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for that car’s race debut, 1:44.251.

The top Corvette C7.R was seventh with Jan Magnussen, the top BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM in 10th in the 11-car class.

GTD

The 27-car GT Daytona field sees a front row sweep by the Ferrari 488 GT3 in its Rolex 24 at Daytona debut, the car having only made its North American debut a race later at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year.

Alessandro Pier Guidi took the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari to the top spot at 1:47.099, just 0.018 of a second clear of fellow Italian Alessandro, Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:47.117.

Both times were ahead of the last dry qualifying pole time set in 2015, James Davison in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at 1:47.272.

Pier Guidi was part of the winning lineup at the 2014 Rolex 24 in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, part of the last-lap shootout between he and Markus Winkelhock in an Audi. Pier Guidi shares this car with Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Peter Mann and Rino Mastronardi.

After the pair of Ferraris, the first Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and Acura came next to make it six manufacturers in the top seven. Only Lexus (best car 13th), BMW (17th) and Mercedes-AMG (18th) were outside the top 10 of the nine manufacturers entered in class. Acura did well to qualify both of the debuting NSX GT3s in the top-10 with Andy Lally and Jeff Segal.

In a weird alphabet quirk, the top-five in class featured four Italians and five drivers whose first names all end with the letter -o. After the pair of Alessandros, Marco Sorenson (No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Matteo Cairoli (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mirko Bortolotti (No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completed the top-five. Those five cars were separated by 0.686 of a second.

Beyond that, the top 19 cars down to Ben Keating in 19th in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, were within two seconds. Keating was 1.957 seconds off the pace.

RESULTS

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.