Brumos Racing's David Donohue captured the pole Thursday for the 47th Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Driving the No. 58 Porsche Riley, Donohue lapped the 3.56-mile, 14-turn road course in 1:40.540, breaking the previous Rolex Sports Car Series track record by more than two-tenths of a second.
"We were the fastest guy (today)," said Donohue after his eighth career Grand-Am Rolex Series pole. "But the truth is I would rather be up here in the center at this time Sunday answering your questions. That's really what it's all about. This is kind of bragging rights for a couple of days here but in the long run it doesn't mean much. People remember the winners and not who won the pole."
Now that he was won the pole, Donohue said his team needs to begin preparing for the race. "Everybody needs to get prepared. It's probably going to feel pretty miserable with the temperatures that are forecast for Saturday night. I think everyone needs to get the mentality to go for the long haul. We have an all-Porsche front row here and we've got the smallest engine in the field. So we need to make sure that (the car) stays together and watch the distance. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see half a dozen cars on the lead lap in the closing hours of this race. It's very close. We've got a lot of good teams."
One of those good teams is Penske Racing, whose driver, Timo Bernhard, qualified second in a Porsche Riley -- a mere one thousandth of a second behind Donohue. "After three laps, I got some space," explained Bernhard, who won the Rolex 24 in 2002. "But the team told me I was (third). And when I got some space I improved my time quite a bit and it was good for (the pole).
"Then the next lap I went one or one-and-a-half tenths quicker again, so I thought I must be on the pole again. But then (the team) told me I was second by just a little, little tiny bit. So I said (second) is very good to start this year's season and the 24 Hours of Daytona," added Bernhard. "But when I came out of the car and saw that it was only one-thousandth of a second I was a little bit depressed. Then I was thinking maybe I could have accelerated a little earlier or avoided a slide."
Penske Racing, in a partnership with Wayne Taylor Racing, competed in last year's Daytona24 but did not contest any other Rolex Series races. In 2009 Penske will contest the full schedule with Bernhard and Romain Dumas. This means the team will have to get accustomed to a car that is quite different than the one it raced in the American Le Mans Series for the past three years.
"The Penske Racing organization did a very, very good job putting together the team in such a short time," said Bernhard, referring to how well the team has adapted to the Porsche Riley. "I am very happy so far. We've been very competitive. We've always run in the top-six. And we were good this morning and in qualifying. I have to thank Penske Racing for putting everything together like that. The good thing I have to say is that my crew didn't change (from last year). It's the same crew that we won the last two championships in the ALMS with the Porsche RS Spyder. So that helps for sure. And I've been driving together with my teammate Romain Dumas for the past five years. That's good because you have familiar faces and that helps a lot in making the move to a new championship."
The Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley qualified third in the hands of Michael Valiante, who moved over from the SunTrust Racing squad in the off-season.
Ricardo Zonta in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Lola and Ryan Dalziel in the No. 22 Alegra Motorsports BMW Riley rounded out the top-five Daytona Prototypes.
The No. 01 Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, last year's race winning car, qualified sixth, followed by the SunTrust Racing Ford Riley and the second Ganassi Racing entry.
SpeedSource Racing's Sylvain Tremblay was the fastest qualifier in the GT class, with a lap of 1:49.445 in the No. 70 Mazda RX-8. Andy Lally, driving the No. 67 Racer's Group Porsche, turned the second-fastest lap of the 15-minute qualifying session. The No. 14 Autometrics Porsche of Martin Ragginger was third fastest.
"This is a good start to the weekend," said Tremblay, who lost his wife in a car crash in December 2008. "The whole SpeedSource team has been unbelievable. What happened to me personally is hard to understand sometimes. But I had to dig deep and do something special. When I crossed the stripe and they told me I was on the pole it was hard for me to make it back around. It was a really emotional lap."