Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Taylor leads Road America polesitters

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Ricky Taylor (Prototype), Dirk Mueller (GT Le Mans), Jeroen Mul (GT Daytona) and James French (Prototype Challenge) have scored the pole positions for Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, the two-hour, 40-minute next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season from Road America. Quick qualifying reports are below.

PROTOTYPE

Ricky Taylor laid down the hammer early at 1:53.058 and was never headed in the rest of qualifying for Prototype, for both his own and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R team’s fourth pole this season. Taylor shares the car with brother Jordan and the two enter this weekend with a 19-point lead in the championship.

They’ll be looking to snap a two-race rut after winning the opening five races; additionally they will be looking to stop the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing crew of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran from winning their third straight Road America race.

The battle in Prototype qualifying was for second place, with the remaining seven cars in class covered by just over half a second. From second to sixth, just 0.157 of a second covered the rest.

Jose Gutierrez was best of the rest, an impressive second in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson he shares with Olivier Pla, but still more than a second back at 1:54.075.

The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi was third in the hands of Scott Sharp (he shares with Ryan Dalziel) while the new Ligier in the field from VISIT FLORIDA Racing, the No. 90 car driven by Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande, rolls off from fourth.

The second Patron Nissan starts fifth ahead of the second, third and fourth place cars in points – the Nos. 31 and 5 Cadillacs and the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, which led Friday’s practice but fell down a bit during the sunny session.

GT LE MANS

Coming into Road America, the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs got a bit of help from the series organizers – a boost increase – and the EcoBoost twin-turbo V6s then promptly boosted their win chances as a result of qualifying in GT Le Mans.

Dirk Mueller and Ryan Briscoe slotted their Nos. 66 and 67 Fords into the top two spots in qualifying rather easily, with Mueller scoring his first and Ford’s fourth pole of the season. Ford has not won since the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona but both cars are still in realistic title contention.

Mueller’s 2:01.422 lap was better than Briscoe’s 2:02.203 by a substantial margin. In third place, Alexander Sims’ best time of 2:02.211 in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM was the only other car within a second of pole.

Mueller shares his car with Joey Hand, Briscoe with Ryan Westbrook and Sims with Bill Auberlen.

The Nos. 912 and 911 Porsche 911 RSR cars were fourth and sixth, sandwiching the second BMW, with the pair of Corvette C7.Rs seventh and eighth. For the points-leading No. 3 car qualified by Jan Magnussen in the car he shares with Antonio Garcia, it will be a long road Sunday to move up the order.

GT DAYTONA

Change Racing scored its first pole of 2017 in what’s been a year dominated by bad luck, in the stacked GTD class.

Jeroen Mul impressed in the No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to deliver a best time of 2:06.649, which was 0.174 of a second clear of fellow Road America first-timer Jesse Krohn, driving the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.

Mul shares his car with Corey Lewis and Krohn with Jens Klingmann. Neither Lamborghini nor BMW has won this year in GTD.

Patrick Lindsey took the Lime Rock-winning No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R to third ahead of Scott Pruett, in his first qualifying in the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 and Andrew Davis, in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS.

First and second in points, the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 and No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, roll off from eighth and ninth. Ben Keating, in the Mercedes-AMG, did outqualify the second car under the Riley umbrella, the now WeatherTech Porsche qualified by Cooper MacNeil, in 11th.

Neither the No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes (mechanical) nor the No. 93 Acura (accident damage) was able to qualify.

PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE

It was another track, and another pole, for James French in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 in PC. It’s his third straight at his home track.

French’s best lap on this occasion was 1:59.149, nearly three seconds clear of second-placed Don Yount in the No. 20 BAR1 entry.

French recorded his sixth pole in seven attempts this year, and fifth in a row. This was meant to be Pato O’Ward’s turn to qualify but a last-minute change saw the Sheboygan native back in the car to qualify. The pairing looks to extend their perfect win streak to seven this weekend.

RESULTS: Qualifying

Chevrolet hoping it finally has edge on Honda in Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chevrolet engines have powered some of IndyCar’s biggest wins over the last six years.

Their drivers have won three of the first five races this season, four straight series titles and claimed the top four starting spots in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

So why is there so much chatter about Chevy vs. Honda in Sunday’s race? It’s the one mountain Chevy continues to try and conquer.

“We have more horsepower at the top end but race running’s going to be different because you’re not going to be flat out,” 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud said. “You’re going to have to manage your tires, you’re going to have to lift a lot and reaccelerate, and the Honda is really strong at that. So I think it’s going to equalize the race and I think there’s a good chance it will show, which is fantastic.”

Pagenaud knows both engines well.

He spent his first four seasons in the series working with Honda teams before switching to Roger Penske’s powerhouse Chevy team in 2015.

Yet as dominant as Chevy has been over the years outside Indy and as good as Penske’s team has been on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, Honda continues to have the upper hand in the 500. Their cars have driven to victory lane 12 times over the past 14 years, including a run of nine straight (six coming when Honda was the series’ sole-engine manufacturer).

Chevy has two 500 wins since returning to the series in 2012. But the engine battle is becoming far more competitive even at Indy where the disparity from the top qualifier to the last qualifier was cut from 11.083 mph in 2017 to 5.198 mph this year.

Drivers have already noticed a difference on the track and casual fans who only watch the 500 might pick up on the changes, too.

“It’s certainly exciting for the fans, for us, for the teams,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Chevy-powered driver for Penske. “It’s all about the end. Right now, we happen to be competitive so let’s see what happens in the race.”

Last year, Honda grabbed four of the top five spots and powered two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the race’s rookie of the year award. The problem: Three Honda engines blew during the second half of the race and those still on the track worried they would face the same fate.

This year, some of those same questions could return after Marco Andretti blew an engine just hours before the start of the IndyCar Grand Prix. Still, Andretti has been fast and qualified 12th for the race.

The new aero kits have drivers complaining about handling and passing on Sunday. Practice and qualifying speeds haven’t provided many hints about what to expect, either.

The practice session Monday was the first time everybody worked heavily on race setups and attempted to run in traffic.

The result: Chevy and Honda each had five cars among the top 10, in practice led by 23-year-old Sage Karam at 226.461 mph in a Chevy. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy winner with Andretti Autosport, was third-fastest at 224.820 – and No. 1 among the Honda teams.

Chevy, however, posted the top three non-tow speeds with rookie Kyle Kaiser leading the way at 221.107. Marco Andretti wound up fourth at 220.407 and was the top Honda car the list.

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has learned not to read too much into all these numbers. The Chip Ganassi Racing star qualified ninth and is one of only two Honda drivers starting in the first three rows Sunday.

Last year, Honda took six of the top nine starting spots and had four of the top five cars at the finish line.

“I think there’s a lot of good Honda cars. Hopefully this one is one of them,” the 2008 Indy 500 winner said. “It showed pretty good, I think, in practice. But again it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You’ve got to give it your best, put in the effort and work hard.”

And hope for the best.

“I believe, even last year, even though the Hondas were really strong, we were able to fight in the end,” Castroneves said. “It’s all about being a good, balanced car.”