Audi, Ford, G-Drive, Aston Martin secure Fuji poles

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Audi Sport’s pair of Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval, in the No. 8 Audi R18 they’ll share with Oliver Jarvis, have captured the overall and LMP1 pole for Sunday’s Six Hours of Fuji for the FIA World Endurance Championship – but only just.

The two-lap average for the No. 8 Audi of 1:23.570 was just ahead of the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, qualified by Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber, whose average was 1:23.595.

The leading Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid will roll off third, with Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi taking qualifying duties in the No. 5 car. Their average was 1:23.739.

Porsche has won the last four FIA WEC races, with Audi having won only once this year (Spa) and Toyota yet to break through – obviously the closest it came was at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The second Toyota, Audi and Porsche were next up, ahead of the pair of privateer LMP1 entries from Rebellion Racing and ByKolles.

G-Drive Racing, with a slightly altered lineup of Will Stevens in for Rene Rast alongside Alex Brundle and Roman Rusinov, slotted into the LMP2 pole with a two-lap average of 1:31.698 for the No. 26 Oreca 05 Nissan.

The class-leading No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan (Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi, Gustavo Menezes) and Jagonya Ayam-backed new No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2 Nissan lineup (Giedo van der Garde, Sean Gelael, Antonio Giovinazzi) roll off second and third.

Menezes, Giovinazzi and Pipo Derani, who shared the No. 31 ESM Ligier Nissan which will start only eighth in class, entered qualifying on the heels of being confirmed for the LMP1 Rookie Test in November at Bahrain.

The pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs went 1-2 in GTE-Pro qualifying, ending the recent run of form for Aston Martin Racing in the process. It’s Ford’s first WEC pole since the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was achieved by Dirk Mueller in one of the U.S.-entered Ganassi Fords there (the full season IMSA entrant, rather than the full season WEC ones).

The No. 66 Ford of Stefan Muecke and Olivier Pla, fresh off his Petit Le Mans win with Michael Shank Racing, edged the sister No. 67 Ford of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, with that car’s lineup reduced to just two drivers following Marino Franchitti’s team-enforced “step back” for the rest of the season.

Muecke and Pla’s No. 66 car had a two-lap average of 1:37.681 to the Priaulx/Tincknell pair’s average of 1:37.725.

The two Ferrari 488 GTEs were next, followed by the two Aston Martin Vantage V8s, followed by the single Dempsey/Proton Porsche 911 RSR in a very Noah’s Ark-style grid.

Aston’s No. 98 entry did secure the GTE-Am pole, with Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy qualifying and Mathias Lauda joining them for the race. That car’s average lap time was 1:39.490, which was a few tenths up on the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia (1:39.863).

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)