Team Penske flexed its muscles ahead of its first IMSA WeatherTech race at Road Atlanta today, after IndyCar star and 2018 Penske Acura driver Helio Castroneves set a blistering 1:11.314 lap of the Georgia-based circuit to put the team’s ORECA 07 Gibson on Pole for tomorrow’s 20th anniversary edition of Petit Le Mans.
It was a tight session, but nobody could match the hunger of Castroneves in the American team’s return to sportscars, despite the best efforts from Pipo Derani and Brendon Hartley in the two ESM Nissan DPis.
Second on the grid was taken by Derani in the #22 Nissan, the Brazilian’s best tour a 1:11.475, less than two tenths off. Hartley put the #2 third, with a 1:11.499.
“That was not a statement, we’re learning,” Castroneves said. “Tim Cindric, I can’t think enough neither my teammates Juan Pablo and Simon. Everyone’s learning here, I hope tomorrow we finish in the same way. The car was incredible, a bit of understeer but when I figured out what to do it was unbelievable.”
“I’d like to congratulate Helio, we have a front row of Brazilian drivers which is nice,” Derani added. “It was a very close qualifying between everyone, the race is going to be very difficult. Our team has been flawless this weekend. Second and third isn’t bad. We know how good Penske are. I’ll take it.”
Best of the rest in the frantic Prototype session was the #13 Rebellion ORECA, Mathias Beche managing a 1:11.623 to go fourth. The top five was completed by Visit Florida Racing’s Ligier.
The fastest of the three Cadillacs was the championship-leading #10 Wayne Taylor Racing DPi V.R of Ricky Taylor. Taylor could only manage 1:12.121 to go seventh.
Risi Competizione, winners of last year’s Petit in GTLM, will start the 20th edition from Pole, a stunning effort from Toni Vilander in the team’s Ferrari 488, scored the top spot by 0.045 in an extremely tight GTLM session.
Vilander went Provisional Pole with a 1:17.664, before improving again with a 1:17.660, which was good enough to secure the top spot.
“IMSA keeps adding weight to us and we keep pushing harder, what a great day,” Vilander, who scored the Houston-based team its second consecutive class Pole, said. “Now I feel I can get more out of the car. We have a good trio for the race, we’ll try and execute it perfectly.”
Second in the hotly-contested class will be the #67 Chip Ganassi Ford, Richard Westbrook setting a 1:17.705. The #3 Corvette – after a late improvement by Antonio Garcia after a micro duel with Bill Auberlen in the #25 RLL BMW – ended up third. The Spaniard’s best time was a 1:17.714, in the final minutes.
In the 15 minutes of running, the top five were separated by less than a tenth. Joey Hand’s #66 Ford finished up fourth with a 1:17.728, pushing Auberlin to fifth at the death; his best a 1:17.731.
The best of the Porsche’s was half a second off the Pole time in eighth, Gianmaria Bruni putting the #912 ahead of the #911 with a 1:18.161.
The championship leaders in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari will start from GTD Pole, a late 1:20.661 inside the final two minutes by Matteo Cressoni good enough to edge out Andy Lally in the #93 Michael Shank Acura by seven hundredths of a second.
The pair and Jack Hawksworth in the #15 3GT Lexus traded fast times in the class’ session, with Lally’s best eventually a 1:20.739 to go second, and Hawksworth setting a 1:20.798 to go third.
“The car was fantastic, the team did an amazing job, thanks to the team to help me yesterday to get some laps in the car,” Cressoni said after the session. “Now we are immediately focused on the race.
“We’re still fighting for the NAEC and we’re starting from the best place.”
Behind, the #29 Land Motorsport Audi of Sheldon Van Der Line ended up fourth, with a 1:20.830, with the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW completing the top five following a 1:20.904.
The best of the Porsches ended up sixth, Michael Christensen putting the #28 Alegra 911 sixth. The second Acura ended up seventh, with Jeroen Mul making it seven manufacturers in the top eight, steering the #16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracan to eighth.
It was a clean run for the GTD drivers, aside from a couple of small offs, including a spin by Ben Keating in the #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes; the Texan qualified the car a lowly 15th.
Performance Tech will start at the head of the three-car Prototype Challenge field, after James French set a 1:16.069 the final qualifying session for the long-standing spec ORECA class.
The 2017 edition of Petit Le Mans is set to get underway tomorrow at 11:05am local time in Georgia.