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: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.