TUSCC: Ganassi And Shank Share Front Row At Texas

Photo Credit: IMSA

The 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season started off brilliantly for the Chip Ganassi Racing squad, as they claimed another win in the season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, their first triumph at the World Center of Racing since switching to Ford EcoBoost twin turbo power for their Riley Daytona Prototype. However, as the season continued their pace began to fade for a multitude of reasons. Entering Saturday’s Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas however, those issues have been pushed off to the side for the moment.

The reigning event winners will start from the overall pole position, after Scott Pruett’s TOTAL Pole Award clinching effort on Friday afternoon. The five time Rolex 24 at Daytona champion toured the 3.4 mile layout in 1:58.441, just fast enough to edge Michael Shank Racing’s Oswaldo Negri, Jr. by less than a tenth of a second. In addition to CGR’s surge this weekend, the event has also started well for the Ligier-Honda coupe entrants, who opened the year at Daytona on the pole, but have struggled since crashing out of the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.

Behind the front row starters, the plethora of Chevrolet Corvette DPs is ever present, led by Sebring winners Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi of Action Express Racing. Since Ganassi’s victory at Daytona, the bowtie brigade has claimed victory in all other TUSCC events up to this point of the year, with only the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta left after Saturday’s checkered flag in Texas.

The reigning Prototype class series champions enter the Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix only one point behind the Visitflorida.com Racing pair of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiente, who only qualified sixth fastest on Friday.

A win by Ganassi’s duo on Saturday may also provide some healing for team boss Chip Ganassi himself, who is on the mend after suffering injuries in a bicycling accident last weekend.

In the Prototype Challenge division, Paul Gentilozzi’s RSR Racing team continued its late charge for the class title by snagging the TOTAL Pole Award on Friday. Canada’s Chris Cumming earned the honor with a hot lap at 2:02.222, almost a half second faster than the rest of the division, led by JDC-Miller Motorsports’ Mikhail Goikhberg. For Cumming and co-driver Bruno Junqueira, a win on Saturday would be their second in succession, drawing them closer to both CORE autosport and PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports on the current points table. The current top two both struggled for pace on Friday however, as Jon Bennett put the CORE entry fourth on the grid, with PR1’s Mike Guasch settled for sixth.

If an extra twenty kilograms of weight was expected to move Porsche North America off of its dominant place at the top of the GT Le Mans class mountain, early returns on Friday indicate the apple cart has not yet been overturned. Entering COTA on the strength of three straight victories, current GTLM points leader Patrick Pilet put the No. 911 machine on the class pole for Saturday ‘s race with a 2:04.396 pass, about a tenth of a second faster than Dirk Werner in the lead Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW Z4. Pilet and teammate Nick Tandy will not enter the fight on their own Saturday either, as the sister factory Porsche entry of Jorg Bergmeister and Earl Bamber will start the two hour, forty-five minute event from the third position.

Finally in GT Daytona, Paul Miller Racing’s quest to move back to the head of the line in the championship race got off a strong beginning Friday, as Dion von Moltke grabbed the TOTAL Pole Award at 2:11.097, taking the honor by over one half second. Although the gap is somewhat larger than the norm in GTD, other contenders for the race win and also the championship are still expected to factor in the final outcome Saturday afternoon. The Riley Motorsports’ Dodge Viper of Jeroen Bleekmolen and Ben Keating will lineup alongside the PMR Audi R8 of Von Moltke and Christopher Haase, while the second row is also loaded, with Oak Tree Grand Prix winners Scuderia Corsa and points table leaders TRG-Aston Martin Racing featured.

The bright red liveried Ferrari 458, driven by Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, enters Saturday just six points behind TRG’s Christina Nielsen in the title race.  After looking to be at a disadvantage based on the practice timing sheets, Nielsen’s situation was boosted on Friday evening through a solid qualifying run by teammate Kuno Wittmer to claim the fourth position on the grid, perhaps placing the No. 007 Vantage V12 higher than it was expected they would end up.