Bamber sets track record in GT Le Mans qualifying.
ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Joey Hand gave his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Prototype team its first pole of 2015, with a fast lap around the four-mile Road America track of 1 minute, 56.452 seconds, more than a half-second ahead of the next-fastest qualifier, Christian Fittipaldi in the Mustang Sampling Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP.
Since the Ganassi car, which Hand shares with veteran Scott Pruett, is the only Ford-powered Prototype in the field, this is Ford’s first pole for this season in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series. Fittipaldi and co-driver Joao Barbosa ran a best lap of 1:57.020. Third was the VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP of Michael Valiante, who ran a lap of 1:57.173.
Hand said he was “super excited” to get the pole, especially since Road America is “a track I love” – he has been coming here since 2001. “The car was pushing in practice,” he said, but the Ganassi team worked on the handling “and really helped us find our way.”
In GT Le Mans, Earl Bamber showed the sort of talent that made him an overall winner for Porsche at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, especially since, unlike Joey Hand, “I’ve never seen the track before.” His lap of 2:02.384 in the Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR he shares with Patrick Pilet edged out Antonio Garcia’s best lap of 2:02.608 in the Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R he shares with Jan Magnussen.
Third in GT Le Mans qualifying was Giancarlo Fisichella, who turned a lap of 2:02.721 in the Risi Ferrari F458 Italia he co-drives with Pierre Kaffer.
Bamber’s lap was about 1.4 seconds faster than the previous track record for the class. “The car was really hooked up,” he said. Part of that may be due to a new Michelin tire its teams are running for the first time.
Clearly, Antonio Garcia liked having his old No. 3 Corvette back – in June, teammate Magnussen suffered a mechanical issue while practicing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the resulting crash damaged the car so badly that it has taken until this race to repair it. In between, the No. 3 has been a repainted Corvette borrowed from Labre Competition, a European team.
In the Prototype Challenge class, the cars all use an ORECA FLM09 chassis powered by a Chevrolet V8, so it comes down to driver talent and the team’s ability to tune the handling to win a pole, and in this case that was James French, who logged a late lap of 1:59.658, knocking Chris Cumming off the pole with his lap of 1:59.710.
Those were the only two drivers in the class to run laps faster than two minutes. Cumming drives with Bruno Junqueira in the RSR entry, while French’s teammate is Conor Daly in the Performance Tech car. French, who is from nearby Sheboygan, Wi., has a lot of experience at Road America, and it showed.
The GT Daytona class qualifying went down to the wire, as ViperExchange.com Dodge Viper SRT driver Ben Keating had the class pole, just as he did at Lime Rock, until a late charge by another car beat his time. Then, it was Audi driver Dion von Moltke, and in this case it was Patrick Lindsey, driver of the Park Place Porsche 911 GT America he co-drives with Spencer Pumpelly, who almost took the ST class victory earlier in the day in a Porsche Cayman until he ran out of gas in sight of the finish line.
Lindsey’s fastest lap was 2:09.370, with Keating clocking in at 2:09.488. Third in the GT Daytona class qualifying was Christina Nielsen, who ran a lap of 2:09.947 in the TRG-AMR Aston Martin she shares with 2014 GT Le Mans champ Kuno Wittmer.
“I knew I had to out my head down for one lap that was perfect,” Lindsey said. And once he got it, “I knew that was all I could get out of the car.”
Race day opens with a 20-minute TUDOR Championship warm-up at 10 a.m., followed by the second IMSA Lites race at 11:05 a.m. and the Porsche GT3 Cup USA at 12:15 p.m. The Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, Round nine of the TUDOR Championship, takes the green flag at 3:05 p.m. Live coverage on FOX Sports 1 begins at 3 p.m. IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile app will have live streaming, live timing and scoring, and IMSA Radio’s play-by-play.