Late Friday afternoon, after a day of hot and humid weather (although, no thunderstorms that were forecasted), the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams took to the 1.474-mile circuit at Lime Rock Park for qualifying. Three 15-minute sessions would determine the starting order for Saturday’s race.
In the Prototype Challenge class, CORE autosport‘s Colin Braun has been one of the fastest drivers on track all season. Here, the pit notes may not make it look tough, but Braun was tested thoroughly.
Braun set down an early lap of 49.719 seconds and steadily improved that time down to 48.824 seconds (108.684 mph) on his seventh lap. While it was not the fastest lap of the weekend, it gave the rest of the class something to shoot at.
First up was Performance Tech Motorsports‘ James French, who set laps in the low 49-second bracket. Starworks Motorsports‘ Jose Gutierrez was the second driver to dip into the 48-second bracket, then nearly wiped out on his next lap. French later improved his time to jump over Gutierrez and get back into second.
Finally, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports‘ Robert Alon laid down a time of 48.840 seconds on his 16th lap of the session to move into second, just .016 of a second off of Braun. However, no one could get any closer to the former Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series regular as Braun held on take the overall pole.
French ended up third, just a little more than a tenth off of Braun. Gutierrez was another half a tenth back in fourth, while Starworks Motorsports’ No. 8 for Alex Popow was fifth. The top 5 drivers were separated by less than four-tenths of a second.
In GT Le Mans, fans saw a much different type of qualifying session as compared to the other two classes. Michelin provides GT Le Mans teams with three different compounds (referred to as “Hot,” “Warm” and “Cool”) and teams are allowed to mix and match. That, and the fact that the Michelins are a faster tire than the regular Continentals meant that the rubber could last that little bit longer.
The GT Le Mans drivers seemed to experience less tire wear than the other two classes, resulting in another great duel. The Corvettes, Ford GT’s, Risi Competizione‘s Ferrari 488 GTE and the BMW’s were all over each other. Unlike the other two classes, the fastest GT Le Mans laps of the weekend were set in qualifying.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Richard Westbrook set a lap of 51.177 seconds three minutes into the session. From then on, the lap times continued to fall. Westbrook lowered the time to beat multiple times. Meanwhile, BMW Team RLL‘s Dirk Werner was all but matching Westbrook stride for stride. So was Westbrook’s teammate Joey Hand, Risi Competizione’s Toni Vilander and Corvette Racing‘s Tommy Milner.
The five drivers lowered and lowered the time to beat until Westbrook set a time of 50.748 seconds (104.564 mph), a full four-tenths of a second faster than the best GT Le Mans practice lap of the day. Shortly afterwards, teammate Hand stalled the No. 66 on the No Name Straight, bringing out the red flag with two minutes to go. At that point, the session was flagged complete and Westbrook ended up with his second pole in three races, but only just by a little.
Westbrook won the class pole by a mere .086 of a second over Werner. A couple hundredths of a second further back was Milner in third. Vilander in fourth was only .154 of a second behind Westbrook.
As for Hand, he turned in the fifth fastest time prior to stopping on track. However, since he brought out the red flag, he lost his fastest lap as per IMSA rules. Despite that penalty, he did not lose a position.
GT Daytona was a podium sweep for V10-powered cars, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The tires were probably the most important here as drivers needed to get good laps in before the tires went off.
After losing part of practice due to electrical gremlins, Change Racing decided on a two driver change strategy for Saturday and had Spencer Pumpelly qualify the Monster Energy-sponsored Lamborghini. With temperatures (according to IMSA) nearing 99 degrees and 140 on the track, the surface was at its most slippery.
Three minutes into the session, Pumpelly put down a lap of 53.362 seconds and progressively lowered the target time for the rest of the class to fight over. On his sixth lap, Pumpelly turned in his quickest lap of the session, a 53.148 second (99.842 mph) lap. A couple of minutes later, Pumpelly pulled in, convinced that no one else could improve.
The competition tried. Stevenson Motorsports‘ Andrew Davis and Matt Bell put down good laps, as did Scuderia Corsa‘s Christina Nielsen and others. However, they could not get past Pumpelly, who took his first pole of the year.
Davis’ No. 6 Audi ended up just three-hundredths of a second slower than Pumpelly, but he had to settle for second. Teammate Matt Bell in the No. 9 was four-hundredths slower than Davis. Nielsen was fourth quickest, while Paul Miller Racing‘s Madison Snow was fifth. To give you an idea of how close the times actually were, John Potter qualified the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 for Magnus Racing in 11th. Potter was only five and a half tenths of a second off of Pumpelly. It should be an interesting race on Saturday.
Speaking of the race, Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix is the only IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event this season that will be aired on network television. Coverage will begin on FOX at 3 p.m. It is not forecasted to be as hot on Saturday, but it should still be a hot and humid 160-minute affair.
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