The highly anticipated first-ever qualifying session for the new GTP class did not disappoint.
Only the two Acura’s took to the track within the first six minutes with Ricky Taylor in the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura taking the early advantage.
Meanwhile, the Meyer Shank car of Tom Blomqvist opted for an alternate strategy and pitted for a tyre change with twelve minutes remaining.
With the rest of the field finally joining the track, Nick Tandy in the first of the Porsche’s slotted in behind Taylor before being swiftly deposed by the sister car of Felipe Nasr.
Angered by this, Tandy on his next flying lap set purple times through sectors one and two. However, he carried too much speed through the first phase of the Le Mans chicane, lost the back end of his Porsche 963 and slammed into the barriers causing heavy damage to the front end of the #6 Porsche.
Almost instantly this brought out the red flag but not before Alex Lynn squeezed into third position in the blue #02 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac.
A quick cleanup ensued before the session restarted. Just two minutes and change remained as most of the cars headed out for one last banzai lap.
Taylor and Lynn opted against the final hurrah, confident their earlier efforts would be strong enough to remain.
What they didn’t account for was a fired-up Tom Blomqvist on fresh Michelins who set a 1:34.0 to take the first-ever GTP pole position in this new era of sportscar racing.
Speaking to the IMSA broadcast crew after that mega lap, Blomqvist’s approach was to “Lick the stamp and send it” an approach that often leads to critical mistakes (as demonstrated by Tandy). But in this instance, Blomqvist kept his cool and the reigning champion will start the Rolex 24 from pole position and with 35 championship points to his name.
Nasr clinched second on his final attempt with Taylor’s earlier run being good enough to consolidate third on the grid.
The all-Oreca LMP2 class is one of the few that features a mandate in which the bronze-rated driver must participate in qualifying.
This meant the likes of Raffaele Marciello, Scott McLaughlin and Oliver Jarvis had to sit out and put their faith in their coaching abilities.
Dennis Andersen in the High Class Racing Oreca set the early benchmark with a 1:44.0. But the drivers were just warming up so more was yet to come.
Steven Thomas for TDS swiftly propped himself at the top of the leaderboard before super-experienced Am driver, Ben Keating put in a 1:40.5 to clinch provisional pole.
Shortly afterwards, John Farano in the Tower Motorsports entry was being pushed into the Le Mans chicane by a tailwind down the backstraight. Albeit he misjudged the wind and looped the car around after hitting the first apex. This promptly sent the car backwards into the barriers at high speed. Fortunately, Farano was perfectly ok and exited then car under his own steam. But the red flags had to be deployed due to debris all over the circuit and necessary repairs to the tyre barriers needed.
With 10 minutes required for the session to be declared official and only 38 seconds left to hit that point, the officials elected to restart the session for those 38 seconds meaning Ben Keating clinched yet another pole for the Rolex 24.
Second went the way of Francois Heriau in the first of the TDS entries whilst the sister car of Thomas will start the race in third position.
The IMSA series also features a mandate for the qualifying drivers in LMP3. The driver taking part must either be a bronze-graded driver or a silver-graded driver who is under 30 years of age to bring fairness to the competition.
In an eventful session, Luca Mars in the JDC Miller Motorsports Duqueine set the first benchmark time but promptly suffered a huge lockup at the International Horseshoe, flat spotting his front right tyre in the process.
A mid-session scare then ensued as reports of rain appeared from the pitlane but luckily this was nothing more than the ‘psychological rain’ often reported by drivers.
Ultimately it was Nico Pino in the Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier who clinched his first-ever pole with a 1:45.3. Not only this but he completed the feat without having driven an overall fastest sector. Practice pacesetter, Dakota Dickerson moved the Andretti Autosport Ligier up to second at the flag just a tenth of a second behind the young Chilean driver.
Third went the way of Cameron Shields in the Performance Tech entry as two separate yellow flags curtailed any further efforts in the session.
The second season of GTD Pro saw nine entries take to the track for the Rolex qualifying. Only one manufacturer is represented by more than one car with Aston Martin featuring twice in the entry list.
They would get first blood too as the TGM by TF Sport entry of Owen Trinkler set the initial pace before falling back to their eventual fifth position in class.
Ultimately it would be Maro Engel in the Weathertech Mercedes AMG GT3 that took the class honours with a last-ditch effort to snatch pole away from Ross Gunn in the Spirit of Heart Racing Aston Martin. His 1:46.7 proving to be right up the sharp end of proceedings amongst his fellow GT brand teammates.
Gunn finished P2 just 0.1s behind Engel with Ben Barnicoat third in the Vasser-Sullivan Lexus RCF GT3. Just 0.3s separated the top five in class proving how competitive GTD Pro is likely to be come race day.
It was an absolute Mercedes domination throughout GTD despite the German marque getting off to a slow start to proceedings.
With the fastest driver nominated for each car, it was inevitable that the GTD class would mix with the GTD-Pro category cars. But GTD-Pro runners never topped the theoretically slower class.
It was Mario Farnbacher in the new Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX that set the first benchmark whilst Don Yount in the NTE Sport Lamborghini Huracán Evo 2 ended up with the first spin of the session.
A thrilling duel then ensued between Fabian Schiller in the Sun Energy One Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Kyle Marcelli in the Racers Edge Motorsport Acura NSX. Lap after lap they traded the top spot before finally the score was settled.
Philip Ellis joined the party late in the session but immediately went fastest by 0.4s from Schiller. Ellis in the Winward Mercedes-AMG GT3 then went even faster to finish the session on a 1:46.0 which puts him on pole position for GTD and the overall GT field in what is a GTD 1-2-3 on the overall grid.
Schiller would end up second on a 1:46.3 whilst Mikhail Grenier in the Korthoff Mercedes rounded out the top three with a 1:46.7.
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