Tristan Vautier captures pole for Rolex 24 qualifier in treacherous Daytona conditions

Rolex 24 qualifying pole
IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Capitalizing on perfect timing amid rain-induced chaos, Tristan Vautier won the pole position for Sunday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona qualifying race during a treacherous session.

With damp conditions and a persistent Saturday afternoon drizzle narrowing the racing line on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway, Vautier turned a lap of 1 minute, 34.034 seconds early in the session for prototype cars.

That put the JDC-Miller MotorSports No. 5 Cadillac on the pole position for Sunday’s 100-minute race (2:05 p.m., streaming on Peacock) that will set the starting lineup for the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

QUALIFYING: Full results l Results by class l Sector times l Fastest lap sequence l Fastest lap by driver

STARTING GRID: Lineup for the Rolex 24 qualifying race

HOW AND WHEN TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, more

Filipe Albuquerque qualified second in Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Acura, but his time later was disallowed for failing to meet minimum rear angle specifications in postqualifying inspection.

That gave Cadillacs a sweep of the top four positions with Alex Lynn (No. 02 of Chip Ganassi Racing), Tristan Nunez (No. 31 of Action Express) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 of Action Express).

Vautier said his team decided to scoot past nine slower LMP2 cars to post a fast lap as quickly as possible because of the hazardous conditions.

“The track was actually really dry on the line, it was just a few curbs and white lines that were still damp,” he said. “You couldn’t be off line at all, and the wind made it very tricky as well.

“We discussed holding back or trying to pass (the LMP2 cars) as quickly as possible. I said, ‘OK, if I pass the nine of them fast enough, by the time I’m clear, it should be when tires are good.’ That’s what happened. There was quite a lot of traffic with 15 cars, and there was a chance for a red flag, which actually happened.”

With just more than 5 minutes remaining, Renger van der Zande stuffed his No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac into an infield tire barrier. The accident brought out a red flag that effectively ended the session and nullified the two-time Rolex 24 overall winner’s fastest lap, which would have ranked second to Vautier.

“I got stuck in a wall basically in Turn 5,” said van der Zande, who instead will start 10th Sunday after his Chip Ganassi Racing teams repairs the left-front damage to his car. ” Turn 1, 2 and 3 was really good, but I braked too late for Turn 5. Overall, the car felt really nice. I don’t think it’s drama, but it is a bit of drama.”

The hourlong qualifying session was full of drama across all five classes as drivers attempted to navigate a blustery and rainy day.

“I fully expected a red flag, which means you’ve got to get a fast lap in early,” said LMP2 pole-winner Ben Keating, who also will be teamed with Vautier for Sunday’s Rolex 24 as he moves between teams in the top two prototype divisions.”

Kenny Habul won the pole position in GTD, a class that requires amateur drivers qualify the car.

“I absolutely drove my nuts off,” Habul said. “It was wet in places, a little dangerous, and I just kept my boot into it and gave it everything and was one of the rare instances I had a good lap. So I’m happy.”

Even more impressive was that the Bronze-rated amateur driver bested 11 drivers in the GTD Pro division, including NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindrdic, who lost control of his Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Bus Stop chicane.

Cindric will start from the rear Sunday after being one of seven drivers unable to record an official time.

With 61 cars in the 2022 Rolex 24 (the largest field since 2014), traffic management made the inclement weather even more challenging, and Habul speculated that it resulted in lots of conservative driving.

“It was difficult, especially coming out on cold slicks, even if the track was dry, that’s pretty awful,” Habul said. “I was nervous as a butcher’s thumb. She was all over the road. You couldn’t touch the gas. It was pretty wet those first few turns. It was really about survival, and people spinning all over the place in front of me and everywhere.

“To be quite frank with you, there’s no way all those pros behind me were going. There’s no way on God’s Earth that they were giving it everything, because I woudn’t be there. That was clear. You’ve got some of the real superstars of the GT world that are a second off my time. There’s just no way. But nonetheless, it was a good lap, which is unusual for me.”

It also was a solid effort by Johnson as the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and full-time NTT IndyCar Series driver turned a lap of 1:34.941 in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac.

“The damp, cold conditions are kind of tough with these light cars,” said Johnson, who will be sharing the car in Sunday’s race with Kamui Kobayashi. “As much as I was nervous about it, I was happy to get some experience doing it. I ended up running my fastest lap I’ve ever run around here. I am happy to see my progression. Happy that the team keeps giving me these opportunities to learn. We will go for more tomorrow.”

Everyone is expected to be giving it their all after last year’s inaugural Rolex 24 qualifying race triggered allegations from the race winners of sandbagging by their opponents.

SATURDAY MORNING PRACTICESpeeds l Speeds by class l Speeds by driver l Fastest lap sequence l Combined results

The build-up to the season opener of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship often is rife with accusations of teams underplaying lap times to avoid being hindered by rules tweaks under series officials’ “Balance of Performance” policy (which might be less of a factor with DPi being replaced next year by the new LMDh category).

“IMSA has a good handle on BoP in the last year of the DPi,” Vautier said. “I don’t think there’s many games going on.”

For the 2012 Indy Lights champion, whose underdog team won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year, the pole was a good indicator of improvement.

“It’s important to validate speed, but it’s very early,” Vautier said. “It’s qualifying for a qualifying race. There’s a lot of work ahead. There’s not much time to celebrate. There’s another practice very soon.”

Cameron Shields (LMP3) and Alexandre Imperatori (GTD Pro) also qualified first in class for Sunday’s 100-minute race, which will require a driver change for each car.

Saturday’s IMSA schedule at Daytona concluded with a two-hour practice under the lights.

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