NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Credit: Phil Allaway)

Olivier Pla Puts Michael Shank Racing on Petit Le Mans Pole

All weekend long, Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian‘s Ligier JS P2-HPD has been the class of the field.  The No. 60 had been on the top of the timesheets for all four practice sessions.  Qualifying changed absolutely nothing.

Prototype:

Ricky Taylor set the early pace while trying to get the tires up to temperature, but on his second timed lap, Olivier Pla took the No. 60 to the top of the chart with a lap of 73.381 seconds.  The next time around, he dropped the time down to 73.061 seconds (125.155 mph).  No one was touching that lap time as Pla took his second pole of the year.  The lap is a qualifying lap record at Road Atlanta for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Afterwards, Pla felt that the overall pole was to be expected.

“[The team] gave me a very competitive car and we kept improving each time. I was expecting that more or less,” Pla said after the session.  “The other things will come tomorrow. It will be a real possibility for the win. We have nothing to lose, we want to put on a good show for the fans and want to do a good job for John and for Michael so we will go for it.”

Pla’s time was nearly a half-second faster than Mazda Motorsports‘ No. 55 for Tristan Nunez in second.  Action Express Racing‘s Dane Cameron had the fastest Daytona Prototype in third, followed by Tom Long in the second Mazda. Christian Fittipaldi rounded out the top 5.

Prototype Challenge:

The spec prototype class was quite a bit more competitive than the regular prototypes.  Early on in the session, PC Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points leader Kenton Koch was fastest in the Performance Tech Motorsports No. 38, but the other teams on-track cut away at Koch’s advantage.

BAR1 MotorsportsJohnny Mowlem topped the charts with a lap of 76.640 seconds seven minutes into the session, but that lap was beaten shortly afterwards by PR1/Mathiasen MotorsportsRobert Alon.  Alon then beat his own time and put down a lap of 76.411 seconds (119.669 mph).  That time held up to win the PC pole and help keep his extremely slim hopes at the PC championship alive.  As a result, Alon will start tenth overall on Saturday.

Alex Popow turned a great lap of 76.470 seconds on his 11th lap of the session to qualify second in Starworks Motorsport‘s No. 8.  Mowlem had to settle for third.  Koch was fourth, while Stefano Coletti was fifth quickest in Starworks’ No. 7.  The top 5 were separated by less than six-tenths of a second.

GT Le Mans:

The GTE-spec entries were very close in the 15 minute session with only .735 of a second separating first from tenth.  Despite that close separation, only one team was at the top of the charts during the session.

That team was Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.  Joey Hand, driving the No. 66 Ford GT, set the first time to beat, a lap of 81.135 seconds.  Slowly but surely, Hand continued to chip away at that time until it was down into the low 78-second bracket.  The whole time this was happening, Corvette Racing‘s Antonio Garcia, Risi Competizione‘s Toni Vilander and Scuderia Corsa‘s Daniel Serra were right on his heels.

Later in the session, Hand’s teammate Richard Westbrook lowered the bar further with a lap of 78.205 seconds to put himself on top.  Westbrook then lowered the time a second time with a lap of 78.131 seconds (117.034 mph).  That was good enough to take the GTLM class pole.

Westbrook’s lap was a tenth and a half faster than Garcia in second.  Just 11-thousandths of a second slower in third was Vilander in the Risi Ferrari 488 GTE.  Hand ended up fourth fastest, followed by Serra.  Serra’s fifth-place time was just over two-tenths off the class pole.

GT Daytona:

In GT Daytona, the V10-engined cars showed their strength early on.  Riley MotorsportsJeroen Bleekemolen set the first time to beat in the session.  That was eventually usurped by Change Racing‘s Corey Lewis.  However, Bleekemolen lowered the time to beat to 81.609 seconds on his third flying lap.  That was already good enough to win the pole, but the next lap was even quicker.  The fourth lap was 81.305 seconds (112.465 mph), good enough to win the GTD pole in the final major race for the Dodge Viper GT3-R.

Bleekemolen was .46 of a second faster than Park Place MotorsportsMatt McMurry in second, showing off the pace of the Porsche 911 GT3 R.  Alex Job Racing-Team Seattle‘s Mario Farnbacher was third fastest.  Scuderia Corsa’s Christina Nielsen put down a lap of 82.103 seconds on her ninth lap of the session to qualify fourth in class.  Stevenson MotorsportsLawson Aschenbach rounded out the top 5 in his Audi.

The 19th running of Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is set to go green at 11:10 a.m. on Saturday.  Live coverage will switch between FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, the FOX Sports GO App and IMSA.com.  We have listings for the various switches in our TV Schedule tab at the top of the screen.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor. Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.