Tom Blomqvist wins Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position for Meyer Shank Racing in GTP debut
Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 34.031-second lap in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 that he started just before the checkered flag fell in the first qualifying session ever for the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category. He narrowly beat the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 of Felipe Nasr, who was bumped just seconds after his 1:34.114 lap.
“That was a bit wild,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee on Peacock. “I had no real reference, to be honest. I just had to wing that one a bit. I knew I had a good car and if it was under me I could do the job, but yeah, the tires weren’t even up to temperature. I just kind of licked the stamp and sent it.
STARTING LINEUP: Click here for how the 61 cars will line up Jan. 28
“So fantastic job by HPD, Acura, MSR and Oreca. They built a fantastic car. It’s really promising ahead of next weekend, but thre’s 24 hours of racing before we can set our sights on being back here again for another year.”
The end of the qualifying session turned into a massive scramble after a delay of several minutes because of a red flag for Nick Tandy’s crash in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963.
Blomqvist, who is teamed with Colin Braun, Helio Castoneves and Simon Pagenaud, barely had enough time to back up what MSR had done the past two days in the Roar Before the Rolex 24, setting the pace in four consecutive dry sessions Friday and Saturday.
Under new qualifying rules that allowed a tire change, MSR elected to pit while running second after two laps just before the red flag with 8 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the session. Because no other cars had pitted, Blomqvist had slipped to seventh when the track reopened for a flying lap just before qualifying concluded.
“I’m so relieved right now,” MSR co-owner Mike Shank told Lee. “To have one lap to do it and that’s it, we thought we were screwed when the red came out. Really a lot on (Blomqvist) today. He’s a rock star. He’s the future, and we love having him on board.”
After closing the DPi era with a dramatic championship last fall that capped a 2022 season opened with Shank’s second Rolex 24 victory, the team gained extra prestige with the first pole of the new premier prototype class whose hybrid engines have attracted Porsche, Acura, Cadillac and BMW to GTP.
“It matters when you have high stakes OEM racing here like this,” Shank said of the pole. “We need to come out and prove ourselves. Listen, we got a lot to go on next week, but this affirms all the work. This was more joy than I’ve felt in a long time.”
Tandy’s crash occurred when he locked up the left front tire entering the Bus Stop/Le Mans chicane on the backstretch. Though he drove away from the scene, the wreck ripped off the left front and hood. It was the first significant damage for one of the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid prototype cars after some near misses in heavy traffic since hitting the track Friday.
“I have to say thank you to the team for giving me such an amazing car to drive,“ Tandy said. “I’ve never experienced the Porsche 963 in these conditions with that sort of speed and balance.
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“And honestly, the car was just amazing. The lap time was looking very good. It doesn’t look like we’ve done too much damage luckily. It’s not the ideal situation going into a 24 hours race when parts are limited, but the positive is how the team has been operating this week and how fast the car is.”
There are 61 cars on the entry list for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener Jan. 28-29 (which will be broadcast on NBC, USA and Peacock), and some blustery conditions Sunday made for hairier conditions even with fewer cars on track in each category’s equalifying session.
“The wind is so strong right now to go into Turn 3 and the Bus Stop is very, very tough,” said four-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves, who had paced practice Friday before Braun was quickest Saturday.
Ricky Taylor qualified third (1:34.198) in Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Acura, followed by Sebastien Bourdais (134.262) in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 01 Cadillac, Alex Lynn (1:34.389) in the No. 02 Cadillac, Tandy (1:34.453) and Pipo Derani (1:34.608).
The two BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8s qualified eighth (Philipp Eng, 1:34.723) and ninth (Nick Yelloly, 1:34.846) as less than 0.9 seconds separated the nine cars in the GTP class.
In other categories:
LMP2: Ben Keating put the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports on the pole position in the season opener for the fourth consecutive year, turning a lap of 1 minute, 40.541 seconds.
“I felt like this was one of the more tricky qualifying sessions,” Keating, who shares the car with Paul-Loup Chatin, Alex Quinn and Nicolas Lapierre, said after his 12th career pole in IMSA. “You set your car up so you’re on the edge in the Bus Stop. All weekend, we had a slight headwind going into the Bus Stop. Today, we had about a 19-mph tailwind, and that made a huge difference in our car.”
The session ended early for a crash in the Bus Stop involving the No. 8 ORECA LMP2 07 of Tower Motorsports. John Farano was behind the wheel of the car that he is sharing with Team Penske IndyCar drivers Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgrarden (who both are making their IMSA sports car debuts).
LMP3: Nico Pino, 18, earned his first career pole position with a 1-minute, 43.197-second lap in the No. 33 Ligier JS P320 of Sean Creech Motorsport, nipping Dakota Dickerson (1:43.307) in the No. 36 of Andretti Autosport. The Chilean native, who co-drives with with Lance Willsey, Danny Soufi and four-time Rolex 24 winner Joao Barbosa, delivered Creech’s first pole as a car owner.
GTD, GTD Pro: Mercedes AMG GT3s swept both divisions with the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing first in GTD Pro and the No. 57 of Winward Racing tops in GTD.
Philip Ellis put his Mercedes-AMG GT3 on pole with a 1:46.093 lap. He will start first among 33 entries with his first career IMSA pole. “The last half of the 2022 season, we were really, really strong, and the plan was basically to keep that momentum going into this year,” said Ellis, who co-drives with Russell Ward, Indy Dontje and Lucas Auer. “The team did great work in the offseason during the winter, and I think all the Mercedes did a great job. I had a great, great lap, and it shows. I’d say we had a perfect Roar.”
Though beaten by three GTD cars in an unusual twist, Maro Engel took the GTD Pro pole with a 1:46.784 lap. “We definitely have an amazing car,” Engel, who co-drives with Cooper MacNeil, Daniel Juncadella and Jules Gounon, said after his first pole. “There was some room for me to improve in that qualifying session, but it was still good enough for pole,” he added. “So that’s great. It’s a huge field of GT cars, and being at the sharp end is good for the start and trying to stay out of trouble.”