Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA qualifying: Wayne Taylor Racing, Corvette, Spirit of Race take Rolex 24 poles

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A thrilling qualifying for the Rolex 24 at Daytona has set the stage for what should be an even more thrilling 24-hour race this weekend, with the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes especially close as the closest of margins decided the pole positions in those classes.

All told, an incumbent team knocked off a newcomer for pole in Prototype, Corvette and Ford dueled for the pole in GTLM — with Corvette getting the upper hand — and a former class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans rose to the occasion to take pole in GT Daytona.

Below are qualifying reports for all three classes.

Prototype: Van Der Zande Nips Castroneves in the Final Seconds for Pole

Maybe the most exciting show of the day came from the Prototype class. The 15-minute session saw a seemingly endless string of teams take turns at or near the top of the leaderboard, with Wayne Taylor Racing, Acura Team Penske, Action Express Racing, Spirit of Daytona Racing, Performance Tech Motorsports, and CORE Autosport all taking turns at the sharp end of the grid.

In the end, it appeared that Helio Castroneves was going to give Acura and Team Penske the pole on their debut effort as a team at the Rolex 24. However, in the final seconds, with Castroneves in the pits waiting to emerge from his No. 7 ARX-05 and greet the swarm of media gathering around him, Renger Van Der Zande snatched the pole away on his own debut with Wayne Taylor Racing. Van Der Zande replaced the outgoing Ricky Taylor, who ironically enough is partnered with Castroneves in the No. 7 Penske Acura.

Van Der Zande’s final lap of 1:36.083 nipped Castroneves by only seven thousandths of a second, with Castroneves turning in a 1:36.090, to put the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R on pole. Afterward, a dejected Castroneves was forced to drive his car back to the garage as the media swarm migrated over to the elated Van Der Zande.

Behind the front two, Filipe Albuquerque qualified third in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi for Action Express. Pato O’Ward, a standout in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, qualified an impressive fourth for Performance Tech Motorsports, who are making their debut in Prototype with an Oreca 07 Gibson.

Tristan Vautier completed the top five in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi. Of note: Dane Cameron qualified the sister No. 6 Penske Acura in tenth while Fernando Alonso qualified his United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson in 13th, the best of the Ligier entries.

GTLM: Magnussen Takes Pole for Corvette

The GT Le Mans class saw a classic Chevrolet vs. Ford battle between Corvette Racing and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. In the end, Jan Magnussen put his No. 3 Corvette C7.R on pole ahead of Joey Hand’s No. 66 Ford GT by less than two hundredths of a second – Magnussen’s best lap was a 1:42.779 to Hand’s 1:42.798.

Laurens Vanthoor and Patrick Pilet put their Nos. 912 and 911 Porsche 911 RSRs in third and fourth for Porsche GT Team, while Richard Westbrook completed the top five in his No. 67 Ford.

GT Daytona: Daniel Serra, Spirit of Race Take Pole as Ferraris Dominate

The Ferrari 488 GT3 was the car to have in GT Daytona qualifying, as three Ferraris qualified in the top five, including a sweep of the front row.

Daniel Serra blitzed the GTD field with a best lap of 1:46.049, nearly half a second quicker than the second place car, to take pole for Spirit of Race in the No. 51 Ferrari. Miguel Molina qualified second in the No. 82  Risi Competizione Ferrari.

Behind the front two, Mirko Bortolotti qualified third for GRT Grasser Racing Team in the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, followed by Jack Hawksworth in the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 for 3GT Racing. Alessandro Balzan rounded out the top five in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.

Full qualifying results can be found here. The Rolex 24 begins on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST.

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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

Follow @JerryBonkowski