Photo courtesy of IMSA

Pla leads polesitters at Sebring

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SEBRING, Fla. – Not even 24 hours ago, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda was in pieces after a sizable and odd accident for John Pew during Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida night practice.

Just after 5 p.m. ET on Friday, the repaired car with three of the four quarters replaced following a Herculean effort by the Shank crew, Olivier Pla has repaid them with the pole position and a best time of 1:51.217.

Other class polesitters include Colin Braun (PC), Bill Auberlen (GTLM) and Jeff Segal (GTD).

P 

The Prototype qualifying session saw the LMP2-spec cars emerge ahead after Action Express Racing had dominated practice, with both of its Nos. 5 and 31 Corvette DPs having led all four sessions.

Pla, who also won last year’s pole in a similar Ligier JS P2 chassis albeit with a Judd engine at Krohn Racing, then proceeded to lay down a series of fliers.

His ultimate best time of 1:51.217 was off slightly compared to his 2015 time of 1:51.152, but no less impressive given it was a repaired car.

Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani, in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier Honda that won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, came up just shy at 1:51.391.

Action Express’ two cars line up third and fourth with Dane Cameron in the No. 31 car ahead of Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 car.

Mazda impressed, with Tristan Nunez taking the No. 55 Mazda Prototype completing the top five.

PC

CORE autosport continued its weekend dominance in the new-look Prototype Challenge class, as after it led all four practice sessions it also took the pole position courtesy of a flier from Colin Braun in the team’s No. 54 Oreca FLM09.

Braun set a best time of 1:54.910, which was nearly a second clear of Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry.

It’s Braun’s first pole since Indianapolis in 2014, and the first for the team since Jon Bennett started from pole following the qualifying rainout at Watkins Glen last year.

GTLM 

Bill Auberlen and John Edwards led a BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM 1-2 in GT Le Mans qualifying, with Auberlen scoring the first pole for the new GTLM variant of the new M6.

Auberlen set a new track record of 1:58.402 in the No. 25 BMW, with Edwards slightly in arrears at 1:58.592 in the No. 100 BMW.

Porsche had won the previous six pole positions in class dating to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last year. Corvette Racing started on pole at Watkins Glen International when qualifying was rained out; the last qualifying session led by a car other than Porsche was at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last May, when Dirk Werner scored the pole in the team’s BMW Z4 GTLM.

Auberlen seeks an elusive first victory at Sebring, where he’s been close but no cigar for years. He’ll co-drive with Werner and Bruno Spengler; Edwards shares the No. 100 BMW with Lucas Luhr and Kuno Wittmer.

Scuderia Corsa’s Daniel Serra nearly completed a pole sweep for the Giacomo Mattioli-owned team in the team’s GTLM Ferrari 488 GTE. He ended third.

The best Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R ended fourth and fifth, respectively.

GTD

Jeff Segal secured the first worldwide pole for the debuting Ferrari 488 GT3, in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa entry he shares with Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan.

Segal set a track record of 2:02.350, which edged Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R at 2:02.386. Bleekemolen held the previous track record of 2:03.485, set last year.

Ferrari’s 488 got a pole in the Australian GT race in Melbourne this weekend, but got bounced in tech for an infringement – more here from Speedcafe.

Behind the top two, Jens Klingmann took the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 into third with the pair of Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Rs fourth and fifth. The No. 23 The Heart of Racing car ended ahead of the WeatherTech-backed No. 22 car.

The best of six Lamborghini Huracán GT3s was Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 16 Change Racing entry in eighth; NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell qualified the sister No. 11 Change car 12th of the 20 cars in class.

Qualifying Results

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”