Red Dragon Swoops To Rolex 24 At Daytona Pole

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Alex Gurney surprised the Daytona field by taking pole for the Rolex 24 (Courtesy of IMSA)

The answer to the question of who would start the new era of North American sports car racing with pole position came from one of the more unlikely sources as Alex Gurney was fastest for the GAINSCO sponsored Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP on position, beating out opposition from Christian Fittipaldi and Richard Westbrook.

The battle for the top spot was largely between the trio, starting with Fittipaldi who began the session with a first flying lap of 1:41.633. Unsurprisingly the times fell, dipping into the 1:38s margin for the first time this month, including the Roar Before the 24 test.

Gurney was briefly on provisional pole during the middle of the session, but only for seconds before Westbrook retook the top spot, following up his leading of both of the pre-qualifying practice sessions. However, both Fittipaldi and Gurney pushed the Spirit of Daytona Racing driver back down the order and though he was able to improve his time to get back ahead of Fittipaldi even a late improvement couldn’t topple Gurney from pole position.

Sharing the car with Jon Fogarty, Memo Gidley and Darren Law at Daytona, Gurney and the rest of the team are only scheduled to compete in five races this season, focussing on the North American Endurance Cup events.

Brendan Hartley was third fastest in the Starworks Motorsport BMW-Riley, pushing Fittipaldi back another spot with the second of Action Express’ Corvette DPs fifth fastest.

As high as second in the early stages of the session Katherine Legge qualified the DeltaWing an impressive eighth, beating the best of the traditional LMP2 chassis, led by Lucas Luhr and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in a lowly 11th.

Like Westbrook Colin Braun had led his class – PC – in both of the practice sessions, but unlike the Briton he was able to continue that form into qualifying, though he had, perhaps, stronger than expected challenge in Renger van der Zande in the #8 Starworks Motorsport entry. Having swapped the provisional pole several times during the 15 minute session – each class enjoying its own qualifying session – a rapid succession of improvements from Braun in the final minutes moved him from second, past van der Zande, and into pole position by a little over a tenth.

Van der Zande himself improved to 1:41.815 – a single thousandth off Braun’s then time only for the CORE Autosport pilot to chip another four hundredths of the benchmark to lead the class on 1:41.777. Bruno Junquiera, the only man other than van der Zande or Braun to hold class pole during the session, was third fastest for RSR Racing with Raphael Matos fourth fastest in Performance Tech Motorsports’ entry despite being one of a selection of drivers to spin during qualifying.

Others to spin included Scott Dixon and Darren Turner, both – like Matos – at turn one and the GMG Racing Audi, which left the bus stop chicane veiled in a plume of tyre smoke during the GT Daytona session. Thankfully – given the three red flags that have already punctuated sessions – there were no more serious incidents.

In GTD it was an Audi versus Ferrari battle, the German marque represented by Christopher Haase and Oliver Jarvis while Daniel Serra, Toni Vilander and Townsend Bell went into battle aboard the Prancing Horses fielded by Level 5 Motorsports in Bell’s case and Scuderia Corsa for both Serra and Vilander.

At one point in the session the Ferrari squads held first, second and third before Haase lapped the 3.56mile track in 1:46.973 in the Paul Miller Racing car with three minutes remaining. Vilander, the Finn leading the Ferraris, was unable to respond, his 1:47.028 keeping him second in class while Jarvis slotted the FallLine Motorsports Audi into third ahead of the Serra qualified 458.

James Davison was fifth in class in the #007 TRGAMR Vantage, Bell ending up sixth fastest in class.

Arguably, a majority of the drama was reserved for the GTLM class, though not on the track. Before the session started the #3 Corvette – one of the contenders for pole – was pushed off the pitlane with electrical problems while a gear shifter problem sidelined the Risi Competizione Ferrari shortly thereafter.

The problems for the #3 stacked the odds against Corvette Racing in the emerging battle with the SRT Motorsports Vipers that continued soon after the start of the session when Oliver Gavin went fastest with the pair of Vipers falling in immediately behind. More surprising was the part the pair of Porsche North America 911 RSR had to play in the battle for pole as Patrick Long and Nick Tandy made the fight for pole a three manufacturer affair.

Despite the numerical disadvantage Gavin held the top time for half the session before Long, then Marc Goossens in the #93 Viper he shares with Dominik Farnbacher and Ryan HunterReay, move ahead. Goossen’s lap – 1:44.506 – withstood further challenge, Tandy moving into second fastest, splitting the two Vipers with Gavin falling to fourth ahead of the Aston Martin Racing team.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona program continues with a 90-minute night practice session to close out Thursday’s schedule. A further practice session is set for 11:30am Friday morning (4:30pm UK).

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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