Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s quest for the ultimate trifecta in sports car endurance racing – three straight victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida – looks entirely within reach after GT Le Mans (GTLM) qualifying Friday afternoon at Sebring International Raceway.
One of Ganassi’s Ford GTs, won its class at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the original Ford GT’s overall victory there. The same car, wearing its familiar No. 66 in WeatherTech Championship competition rather than the No. 68 it sported at Le Mans, also won the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona with the same driver lineup – regulars Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, helped on the longer races by IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais.
While that winning driver lineup returns at Sebring, it was the No. 67 Ford GT driven by Ryan Briscoe, that won the GTLM pole with a lap of 1 minute, 55.939 seconds. Both GT Le Mans and GT Daytona set records for qualifying times at Sebring.
Briscoe was just a little quicker than teammate Mueller in the No. 66 – Mueller’s best lap was 1:56.175. The third Ford GT, the No. 68, qualified by Stefan Mucke, was less than a half-second off Briscoe’s pace, but that put him back in fifth. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought four Ford GTs to Le Mans and Daytona, but there are only three at Sebring.
“The track was so fast in qualifying,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think anyone was expecting those lap times.” Briscoe – who shares the car with Richard Westbrook and, for longer races like Sebring, IndyCar champ Scott Dixon – said Sebring is one of his favorite races. “I love the challenges that come with it.” The key to winning? “You have to keep your nose clean.”
Qualifying third, with a lap time of 1:56.252, was the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Tommy Milner. But the car was found to have an illegal ride height in post-qualifying inspection, and will have to start last in the GT category behind all GTLM and GT Daytona (GTD) cars. That elevates the fourth-fastest car, the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR qualified by Kevin Estre at 1:56.319, to third. Surprisingly uncompetitive was the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 qualified by Giancarlo Fisichella with the best lap of 1:57.175, the slowest in the field.
As in the GTLM class, the top qualifiers in GTD also set a Sebring record. The polesitter may be a surprise: Tristan Vautier, the former IndyCar driver, set a fast lap of 1:59.738 and was the only GTD car to qualify under two minutes. A bigger surprise: Vautier drives the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, a brand-new team headed by owner and co-driver Kenny Habul, teamed with veteran racer Boris Said.
The team’s debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona resulted in a finish of 18th in class, so this pole has to be a shot in the arm for the SunEnergy1 team.
Second was the No. 29 Montaplast Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Connor De Phillippi, with a lap of 2:00.490, followed by the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, which Corey Lewis qualified at 2:00.967.
Quicker than expected was the fourth- and fifth-fastest qualifiers, the pair of 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3s – the No. 15, driven by Robert Alon, had a best lap of 2:00.998, with teammate Scott Pruett close behind, turning a lap of 2:01.158 in the No. 14 Lexus.
The new Acura NSX GT3 two-car team, fielded by Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, qualified 11th and 14th in the 21-car GT Daytona field.
Vautier was very pleased with his qualifying performance, but he knows the SunEnergy1 Racing team will need some luck to turn the front-row start into a GTD class win.
“Pit stops could be a challenge,” he said, “because our team is less experienced than some. It’s all about execution, and not making mistakes, and be there for the last two hours.”
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring starts at 10:40 a.m. ET Saturday. FS1 coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, while FOX Sports GO will stream the race flag-to-flag beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET when authenticated with FS1. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout practice, qualifying and the race on IMSA.com.
Source : imsa.com