Rossi relies on teammates’ feedback to score third on the grid at Monterey

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MONTEREY, Calif. – It was during two practice sessions Friday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca that everyone seemingly was concerned about Alexander Rossi’s slow speeds on the race course.

While others appeared to lose their cool, Rossi was able to keep his composure. He worked skillfully with race strategist and Andretti Autosport Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards and engineer Jeremy Milless to find a solution.

They found it by working with the other three drivers at Andretti Autosport and the team’s satellite operation at Harding Steinbrenner Racing with Colton Herta.

Rossi was able to advance through every session of qualifications and rank third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap at 1:10.2105 around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. He starts alongside Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who qualified fourth at 1:10.6719 (114.003 mph) in a Chevrolet.

Newgarden leads Rossi by 41 points heading into the double-points Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC Sunday at 3 p.m.

Herta won his third pole of the season at 1:10.1405 for a speed of 114.867 miles per hour in the No. 88 Capstone Honda.

For Rossi, his calm under Friday’s duress paid off with a fast effort in Saturday’s qualifications.

With three teammates plus Herta, Rossi’s crew was able to add a little of this and that to the setup, and the end result was a fast car in qualifications.

“Well, you always don’t plan on being last in qualifying,” Rossi told NBCSports.com when asked after the difference between Friday and Saturday. “It’s a new track, so we have the opportunity with such a big team to dedicate cars to roll through tons of different just setup philosophies. As long as you have a couple cars that are on a consistent platform that you know you can go back to and feed off of, I think it makes you more comfortable to do that.

“We made sure we went through everything that we could theoretically come up with that might work, and then, yeah, put it all together. Hopefully we were hoping we could put it all together this afternoon.”

Rossi said the team worked through various setups and philosophies before determining the setup used when it mattered on Saturday.

“We all work together every session,” Rossi said. “You have to when you have that many cars out on track. Everyone is doing a corner a little bit better or different than you, and you’ve got to put the puzzle pieces together.

“You definitely feed off each other for sure.”

There was a backup plan, just in case none of those changes worked.

“My engineer in his setup sheet has something with a drop-down item that says ‘Punt,’ so we punted a lot,” Rossi said with his typically dry wit. “That’s what we were doing.”

Simon Pagenaud, the driver from France who won the 103rdIndianapolis 500, looked quizzically at Rossi because he didn’t understand the term, “punt.”

“Like it’s fourth down and you need to give the ball away, and you just kind of,” Rossi began before saying, “You’re French, so…”

While that repartee drew a good laugh, one thing that is obvious is the top four drivers fighting it out for the championship are the four very best drivers in the series this season. They are ones that have won the most races and the biggest races of the season.

“Well, none of us got pole, so we clearly aren’t that good,” Rossi deadpanned.

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

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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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