Tristan Nunez gave Mazda its first pole position in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship as the Japanese manufacturer locked out the front row at Laguna Seca.
A frantic qualifying session saw Nunez set a 1:18.143s fastest lap to break the Prototype lap record at the team’s home circuit.
The result is a historic one for the Mazda organisation, which had previously been an outside competitor in the first two seasons of IMSA’s premier sportscar series. But, with a new petrol engine, the Mazdas were able to pace all three practice sessions and the qualifying shootout on Saturday in a significant return to form.
Nunez was able to edge out Tom Long in the sister SpeedSource-run Mazda Prototype by 0.391 seconds in a tense final three minutes.
Third on the grid will be the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, which hovered in the top two places before Long and Nunez set their laps. Dane Cameron’s 1:19.072s effort was almost a second slower than the pole position time, but still enough to lead the Daytona Prototype contingent.
Fourth fastest in qualifying was the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Ricky Taylor, while the sister Action Express car driven by Christian Fittipaldi rounded out the top five.
In GT Le Mans, a thrilling session concluded with Daniel Serra taking a maiden GTLM pole position for the Ferrari 488 chassis. The Scuderia Corsa driver produced a 1:22.867s lap at the death to take pole honours away from the Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe.
Briscoe, driving the #67 car, will start on the outside row in Sunday’s race after edging out Dirk Muller in the sister Ford by 0.143 seconds.
Fourth in GTLM was Tommy Milner in the #4 Corvette, with initial pace-setter Toni Vilander settling for fifth in the Risi Competizione Ferrari.
Prototype Challenge produced another exciting conclusion, as the top three cars exchanged fastest laps in the closing minutes. Robert Alon had the final say for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, guiding the #52 Oreca FLM09 to a 1:21.146s marker at the death.
Alon’s main challenges came courtesy of James French (Performance Tech Motorsports) and Alex Popow (Starworks Motorsport),with each having a brief period on top of the timesheets.
French’s 1:21.285s time late on was eventually ousted by Alon, while Popow slotted in a further three tenths of a second behind.
The first category to take to the track on Saturday was GT Daytona, featuring a large grid of 17 cars. However, only one would stake a realistic claim to the fourth pole award of the year as Alex Riberas dominated for Alex Job Racing. The Porsche 911 GT3-R driver set a 1:25.775 to smash the class lap record by just over a second.
Christina Nielsen gave her best-ever qualifying performance to finish second – 0.722 seconds adrift – in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, while Patrick Lindsey recovered from a spin to put the Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R third on the grid.
Despite claiming pole position, the GTD session raised some concerns for Alex Job Racing as the #22 Porsche of Cooper MacNeil failed to set a lap. MacNeil had two off-track moments as he contended with a braking issue that forced the team to surrender setting a competitive time.
Round four of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship will get underway today (May 1). Two races are scheduled this weekend: one for PC and GTD (14:15) and the other for P and GTLM (18:45) – both times local.