Without a Shank seat, Allmendinger opts out of Rolex 24 pursuit

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AJ Allmendinger is one of the notable drivers absent from this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, after being a regular in the race for the better part of the last decade.

The Californian, now 35, raced for Michael Shank Racing from 2006 through 2016 at the Rolex 24, and was a key cog in the team’s overall race win in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

But with Shank’s team having earned the right to run Acura’s factory program within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, there was a different focus on who the extra drivers for the Rolex 24 would be.

Beyond Shank’s four full-season drivers in the pair of Acura NSX GT3s, Tom Dyer and Mark Wilkins have been added as the full-season endurance race extra drivers, while IndyCar stars Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay have received the nods as fourth drivers for Daytona.

That’s a move Allmendinger understands, and without a shot at driving with one of his best friends in racing, he opted not to pursue an alternative for 2017.

“Most of it was the fact he got that Honda deal, which was awesome for Michael Shank,” Allmendinger told reporters during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.

“All the years, he’s been working by himself. John Pew was huge for 10 years. (Getting) Honda was special. They wanted their IndyCar guys in, which I totally understand.”

Pew retired from full-time driving at the end of 2016, although Shank told NBC Sports in December that a seat is aways warm for him in any car Shank fields. The team has desired to return to the prototype ranks at some point, although the Acura deal is a multi-year program.

For Allmendinger, whose bout with Starworks Motorsport’s Ryan Dalziel and Allan McNish in the 2012 race marked his most memorable sports car drive of his career as he fought against full-time sports car stars, it’s the less-fun things that go with the challenge of Daytona he’ll appreciate missing.

“I was a bit beat up the end of last year,” Allmendinger said. “Part of doing that race is doing it with Michael Shank for 10 years.

“So I didn’t know (anything else). It would be strange not running with him.

“I’ll miss it until 4 a.m., until I’m sleeping, because getting the knock to wake up isn’t good!”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III