DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated proceedings on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, with top three sweeps in both practice sessions before Joao Barbosa took the Action Express-run No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac to pole position for the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Barbosa has taken the overall pole with James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Alessandro Pier Guidi (GTD) taking the other class pole positions.
What appeared to be a near unassailable 1:37.169 lap set by Ricky Taylor was eclipsed by the rapid Portuguese driver, with Barbosa setting a 1:36.903 lap around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway. This sees the Cadillac on pole for the debut of the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform, which premieres alongside new-for-2017 LMP2-spec cars.
The second Action Express entry, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, ended within a tenth of Barbosa in second place. Dane Cameron shot up to second at 1:36.973 right near the end of the session, and will start second for the first race of his Prototype class title defense in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Barbosa shares his No. 5 car with longtime co-driver Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque, while Cameron is in the No. 31 car with Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Seb Morris.
Neel Jani took the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson up to third right at the end of the session at 1:37.123, with Taylor’s early flier leaving him only fourth.
Jani shares his car with Stephane Sarrazin, Sebastien Buemi and Nick Heidfeld while Taylor will share the No. 10 car with brother Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli in his final start and Jeff Gordon in his first Rolex 24 start in 10 years.
Brendon Hartley did well to take the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi up to fifth on the grid. The best of the Mazda RT24-Ps was only ninth, while the sole Ligier JS P217 from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports was eighth and the sole Riley Mk. 30 from VISIT FLORIDA Racing was 11th. DragonSpeed will start from the rear of the Prototype field following a crash in second practice, and did not partake in qualifying.
The lone team with one car in Prototype Challenge, Performance Tech Motorsports, saw off the two teams fielding two cars to secure the pole position for the class’ final Rolex 24.
James French clocked a 1:42.559 in the No. 38 Oreca FLM09, which was more than eight tenths quicker than veteran Johnny Mowlem. French shares the No. 38 car with Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward and Nick Boulle.
Mowlem is back for one more, final final, go-’round in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports entry. He had announced his retirement following last year’s Petit Le Mans but has come back to Brian Alder’s team. He won the 2015 and 2016 poles here.
“I can say this is officially my last race; Sebring was offered but I said no,” Mowlem told IMSA Radio after the session. “If there was no watch to win, I wouldn’t be here!”
The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2009 Rolex 24 overall co-winner, Buddy Rice, was third in the second BAR1 entry. Incidentally, Rice is set for a full-time driving return for the first time in nearly a decade.
In GT Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs dominated qualifying, with a 1-2-3 sweep in class.
Joey Hand, who will share the team’s No. 66 Ford with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, took the top spot at 1:43.473. That trio was the winning lineup at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and look to follow that up with a Rolex 24 win this weekend.
The Nos. 67 (qualified by Richard Westbrook) and No. 68 (Olivier Pla) Fords were second and third, within 0.231 and 0.514 of a second, respectively.
Toni Vilander was the top non-Ford in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, fourth at 1:44.121 and 0.628 of a second back, while Patrick Pilet qualified fifth in the new No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for that car’s race debut, 1:44.251.
The top Corvette C7.R was seventh with Jan Magnussen, the top BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM in 10th in the 11-car class.
The 27-car GT Daytona field sees a front row sweep by the Ferrari 488 GT3 in its Rolex 24 at Daytona debut, the car having only made its North American debut a race later at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year.
Alessandro Pier Guidi took the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari to the top spot at 1:47.099, just 0.018 of a second clear of fellow Italian Alessandro, Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:47.117.
Both times were ahead of the last dry qualifying pole time set in 2015, James Davison in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at 1:47.272.
Pier Guidi was part of the winning lineup at the 2014 Rolex 24 in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, part of the last-lap shootout between he and Markus Winkelhock in an Audi. Pier Guidi shares this car with Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Peter Mann and Rino Mastronardi.
After the pair of Ferraris, the first Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and Acura came next to make it six manufacturers in the top seven. Only Lexus (best car 13th), BMW (17th) and Mercedes-AMG (18th) were outside the top 10 of the nine manufacturers entered in class. Acura did well to qualify both of the debuting NSX GT3s in the top-10 with Andy Lally and Jeff Segal.
In a weird alphabet quirk, the top-five in class featured four Italians and five drivers whose first names all end with the letter -o. After the pair of Alessandros, Marco Sorenson (No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Matteo Cairoli (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mirko Bortolotti (No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completed the top-five. Those five cars were separated by 0.686 of a second.
Beyond that, the top 19 cars down to Ben Keating in 19th in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, were within two seconds. Keating was 1.957 seconds off the pace.