After the LMP-2 eligible cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took a back seat to the Chevrolet Corvette DPs in all four sessions of practice on Thursday and Friday at Sebring International Raceway, the Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 coupes at least were able to tilt the balance in their own favor when it counted the most as the focus shifted from practicing, to qualifying.
During the Sebring open test a few weeks ago, Michael Shank Racing’s Olivier Pla set the fastest time overall and on Friday afternoon at the 3.7 mile layout, the Frenchman proved that he is indeed the fastest man at the bumpy circuit over a single lap securing the TOTAL Pole Award for Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Pla’s one minute, 51.217 second effort secured the top spot on the starting grid by just one tenth of a second over Tequila Patron ESM’s Pipo Derani, who was also piloting a Ligier-Honda coupe. It is the second straight year at the Sebring enduro that Pla has earned the pole position, having done so last year piloting a Judd-powered Ligier for Tracy Krohn’s team. It is also the second race in a row that Derani has qualified for the front line in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, having joined the SMP Racing squad on the front row at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.
After posting the top times in every pre-qualifying practice session, Action Express Racing’s pair of Corvette DPs could only claim the two spots on the second row of the starting grid during qualifying itself. Dane Cameron, who posted the fastest lap of the pre-qualifying testing session on Friday morning, qualified third on the grid in the No.31 Whelen-backed entry, while Filipe Albuquerque placed the No. 5 Mustang Sampling machine in position number four. Cameron ended up seven tenths of a second behind the pole winning time, while Albuquerque was just within a second of it.
Behind the Ligiers and Corvettes, the best of the rest was Tristan Nunez in the SpeedSource Mazda Motorsports Lola coupe, who qualified for the inside of the third row, however over a second and a half off the pole time. Ryan Dalziel of Visitflorida.com Racing placed a third Corvette DP in the top six to complete the top half of the Prototype class field.
In the Prototype Challenge division, CORE autosport were able to backup their pace shown in practice as Colin Braun cruised to a one minute, 54.910 second pass to claim the TOTAL Pole Award by nearly a full second. The Jon Bennett-run squad has excelled in the run up to tomorrow’s race start, the first for a brand new engine and electronics package on all the ORECA FLM09s in the division. Braun’s arch-rival Tom Kimber-Smith was next in line for PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports. While not matching Braun’s pace, BAR 1 Motorsports’ Johnny Mowlem and Performance Tech Motorsports’ James French claimed the number three and four spots on the PC grid, while Rolex 24 at Daytona champions JDC-Miller Motorsports struggled in qualifying Friday and only managed the slowest time in the division and will start seventh.
In GT Le Mans, Bobby Rahal’s pair of BMW M6 GTLMs once again paced the pack as Bill Auburlen placed the team’s No. 25 entry on the class pole at one minute, 58.402 seconds. The lap was not as fast as the team managed in pre-qualifying practice on Friday morning when they reached the 1:57 bracket, but the German speedsters still managed to go 1-2 on the grid when it counted as teammate John Edwards placed the No. 100 entry just two tenths of a second behind Auburlen.
The second row of the GTLM lineup, features the impressive Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 of Daniel Serra and the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Richard Westbrook. Corsa, who officially extended their commitment in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech Championship in GT Le Mans by two races last week, came within a quarter of a second of claiming the top spot, whilst barely holding off Westbrook, whose efforts should be a big boost for the Ganassi operation, who suffered through multiple mechanical woes with both of its entries at Daytona in January. After going 1-2 in the same Daytona enduro, Corvette Racing will lineup fifth and sixth on the grid as the pair of Pratt and Miller-run C7.Rs also came within a half second of Auburlen’s TOTAL Pole Award-winning effort.
Scuderia Corsa’s success Friday afternoon however, was not solely limited to the GTLM division. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff Segal, the team placed its brand new Ferrari 488 GT3 on the GT Daytona class pole. Segal’s two minutes, 2.350 second run was just enough to secure the honor ahead of Viper Exchange-Riley Motorsports’ Dodge Viper driven by Jeroen Bleekemolen. After the Dutchman posted the fastest lap on the speed chart Thursday in GTD, the veteran came up thirty-six one thousandths of a second short of the top time in qualifying mode.
IMSA seems to have achieved some parity in the lower grand touring division as four different manufacturers are represented in the top four positions. Turner Motorsport’s BMW M6 with Jens Klingmann at the wheel claimed the number three position on the grid, while Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle’s pair of Porsche 911 GT3-Rs rounded out the top five with Mario Farnbacher just ahead of Leh Keen on the timing chart.
Green flag for the 64th running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled By Fresh From Florida is set for 10:40 a.m. eastern time. Weather.com projects a fifty percent chance of showers and thunderstorms during the afternoon hours through the scheduled finish of the race at 10:40 p.m. While the rain is not expected to be as significant as was the case last fall at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans event, the weather may shift the focus from all out pace to rain tire superiority. A Michelin-shod car in the GT Le Mans division claimed the overall win in Atlanta last year and in a wet qualifying session at Daytona, a GTLM on Michelin rubber once again posted the top time. It will be interesting to see if Continental Tire is able to gain ground on their apparent weakness, if it is called into action tomorrow.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for updates every three hours during Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.