Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA qualifying: Wayne Taylor Racing, Corvette, Spirit of Race take Rolex 24 poles

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A thrilling qualifying for the Rolex 24 at Daytona has set the stage for what should be an even more thrilling 24-hour race this weekend, with the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes especially close as the closest of margins decided the pole positions in those classes.

All told, an incumbent team knocked off a newcomer for pole in Prototype, Corvette and Ford dueled for the pole in GTLM — with Corvette getting the upper hand — and a former class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans rose to the occasion to take pole in GT Daytona.

Below are qualifying reports for all three classes.

Prototype: Van Der Zande Nips Castroneves in the Final Seconds for Pole

Maybe the most exciting show of the day came from the Prototype class. The 15-minute session saw a seemingly endless string of teams take turns at or near the top of the leaderboard, with Wayne Taylor Racing, Acura Team Penske, Action Express Racing, Spirit of Daytona Racing, Performance Tech Motorsports, and CORE Autosport all taking turns at the sharp end of the grid.

In the end, it appeared that Helio Castroneves was going to give Acura and Team Penske the pole on their debut effort as a team at the Rolex 24. However, in the final seconds, with Castroneves in the pits waiting to emerge from his No. 7 ARX-05 and greet the swarm of media gathering around him, Renger Van Der Zande snatched the pole away on his own debut with Wayne Taylor Racing. Van Der Zande replaced the outgoing Ricky Taylor, who ironically enough is partnered with Castroneves in the No. 7 Penske Acura.

Van Der Zande’s final lap of 1:36.083 nipped Castroneves by only seven thousandths of a second, with Castroneves turning in a 1:36.090, to put the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R on pole. Afterward, a dejected Castroneves was forced to drive his car back to the garage as the media swarm migrated over to the elated Van Der Zande.

Behind the front two, Filipe Albuquerque qualified third in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi for Action Express. Pato O’Ward, a standout in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, qualified an impressive fourth for Performance Tech Motorsports, who are making their debut in Prototype with an Oreca 07 Gibson.

Tristan Vautier completed the top five in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi. Of note: Dane Cameron qualified the sister No. 6 Penske Acura in tenth while Fernando Alonso qualified his United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson in 13th, the best of the Ligier entries.

GTLM: Magnussen Takes Pole for Corvette

The GT Le Mans class saw a classic Chevrolet vs. Ford battle between Corvette Racing and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. In the end, Jan Magnussen put his No. 3 Corvette C7.R on pole ahead of Joey Hand’s No. 66 Ford GT by less than two hundredths of a second – Magnussen’s best lap was a 1:42.779 to Hand’s 1:42.798.

Laurens Vanthoor and Patrick Pilet put their Nos. 912 and 911 Porsche 911 RSRs in third and fourth for Porsche GT Team, while Richard Westbrook completed the top five in his No. 67 Ford.

GT Daytona: Daniel Serra, Spirit of Race Take Pole as Ferraris Dominate

The Ferrari 488 GT3 was the car to have in GT Daytona qualifying, as three Ferraris qualified in the top five, including a sweep of the front row.

Daniel Serra blitzed the GTD field with a best lap of 1:46.049, nearly half a second quicker than the second place car, to take pole for Spirit of Race in the No. 51 Ferrari. Miguel Molina qualified second in the No. 82  Risi Competizione Ferrari.

Behind the front two, Mirko Bortolotti qualified third for GRT Grasser Racing Team in the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, followed by Jack Hawksworth in the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 for 3GT Racing. Alessandro Balzan rounded out the top five in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.

Full qualifying results can be found here. The Rolex 24 begins on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST.

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.