Pat Jennings, Grand-Am correspondent
Starworks strikes at Daytona, Brumos nails GT class pole
Ryan Dalziel put Starworks Motorsports’ brand new Ford Riley on the pole Thursday for the 50th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Dalziel, the winner of the last Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series of the 2011 season, lapped the 3.56-mile Daytona road course in 1:41.119, averaging 126.741 miles per hour in a car that suffered a motor problem earlier in the day and ran for the first time this year in an afternoon practice session.
To get the pole is very rewarding, but it doesn’t mean too much in a 24-hour race.
“I’m a little surprised,” Dalziel admitted after qualifying. “I thought that the Chevy’s were going to be the cars to beat – and I think they are going to be the cars to beat. But we put together a really good lap. Massive amounts of credit to Starworks. It’s just an incredible job that these guys have done to put a car together in such a short amount of time. It was the last Riley to be delivered to a team. To get the pole is very rewarding, but it doesn’t mean too much in a 24-hour race.”
Dalziel was less than two-tenths of a second faster than one of the Chevrolet Corvette DPs that he thought would be fast: the SunTrust Racing entry driven by Max Angelelli.
“I cannot hide my disappointment, obviously, leading all of the pre-practice (sessions),” a visibly frustrated Angelelli admitted. “I wasn’t expecting (to qualify second). I still feel our car is really good. It’s really fast. I still feel that for the 24-hour that we will be the car to beat.”
The Chevrolets were fast in pre-season testing and in the practice sessions leading up to Thursday’s 15-minute qualifying session, but they are brand new cars – like their Dallara and Riley counterparts – that have never contested a sprint race let alone a grueling 24-hour endurance race. When asked what might happen with the new cars in a 24-hour race, Angelelli said he is “expecting issues for everybody.”
In an effort to minimize those issues, Dalziel said that his team is going to use Thursday night’s practice session and Friday’s two practices to get its other drivers – Allan McNish, Lucas Luhr, Enzo Potolicchio, and Alex Popow – acclimated to the car. So far, Dalziel is the only one on the team who has driven the car.
Dalziel also has high hopes for his Starworks squad in 2012. “Last year we deserved to get more results than we did. We have tried to create a powerhouse team. I think we have hired all of the right people. And we’ve put together an unbelievable car. I think (we’re) going to be competitive not just this weekend but at every race this year. I don’t think we have weak link in our chain. I really am pretty excited about this.”
The top seven cars in the headlining Daytona Prototype class were separated by less than a second, with Scott Dixon (Ganassi Racing) qualifying third, followed by Alex Gurney (Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing), Antonio Garcia (Spirit of Daytona Racing), Oswaldo Negri, Jr. (Michael Shank Racing), and Joao Barbosa (Action Express Racing). The second Starworks entry, driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, and the Doran Racing Ford Dallara rounded out the top-10. Chevrolet Corvettes captured four of the top-seven qualifying spots, while Ford Rileys took four of the top nine positions.
Missing from the time charts was the No. 01 Ganassi Racing BMW Riley, which broke a motor prior to qualifying. The team opted to take its time replacing the motor, meaning that it will start at the back of the 14-car Daytona Prototype field. With four Rolex 24 wins since 2006, Ganassi Racing’s two cars will be driven by a cast of well-known drivers. Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal, and Joey Hand will share the No. 01 entry, while Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jamie McMurray will drive No. 02.
Andrew Davis claimed the GT class pole in the Brumos Porsche. His best lap time, 1:49.342, was less than a tenth of a second faster than the second and third qualifiers, Jeff Segal in the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 and Andy Lally in the Magnus Racing Porsche. Flying Lizard’s Patrick Long was fourth fastest in GT, followed by Gianmaria Bruni in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 458.
With forty-six cars set to start the race and the top 15 qualifiers separated by less than a second, the top GT class entries could find themselves in contention for the overall win if the unproven Daytona Prototypes falter.
“The GT car field for this race is unbelievable,” Davis explained. “I’ve never seen anything like it. All of the international drivers who are here – the F1 drivers, IndyCar drivers, and Le Mans champions. The level of talent and preparation in the cars is unbelievable.”
That talent will take the green flag Saturday at 3:30 pm. ET and their exploits will be broadcast live on SPEED.