Earl Bamber puts his GTLM Porsche on the pole, then crashes it, then loses pole anyway.
BRASELTON, Georgia – As you look at the Friday qualifying times for the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda 10-hour endurance race on Saturday, don’t expect to be immediately impressed – rain, shifting back and forth between “light” and “drizzle” – never stopped long enough to establish any sort of dry line.
But looking at the water running across the Road Atlanta track in some places, and standing water in others, it’s impressive that the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship drivers managed to log the times they did.
Example of the track conditions: Earl Bamber, driver of the No. 912 Porsche North America 911 RSR, qualified on the pole for GT Le Mans with a lap of 1 minute, 30.304 seconds. But the GTLM qualifying session was shortened by more than half due to a bad crash – by Earl Bamber, who lost the car when he aquaplaned at turn 4 and crashed hard into a tire wall. It will be a very long night for his mechanics, as the damage appears fairly extensive, especially at the right rear.
Bamber’s teammate Nick Tandy was a close second in GTLM, with Oliver Gavin third in the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Worth noting is that Bamber’s fastest lap was actually 1:30.074, but by causing the red flag for his crash, IMSA penalized Bamber his fastest lap, but his second-fastest lap was more than enough for the GTLM pole.
UPDATE: Tandy's Porsche failed inspection -- improper ride height -- so the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR goes to the back. And evidently the damage to Bamber's No. 912 was so severe that the team is going to a backup car, meaning both Porsche North America cars go to the rear. This makes the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R the polesitting GT Le Mans car, starting fourth overall, and moves the No. 24 BMW Z4 GTE into second. Bamber still gets credit for winning the pole, though.
Westbrook likes the rain
In Prototype, Richard Westbrook in the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype was by far the quickest, with a lap of 1:27.860, followed by the No. 5 Action Express Corvette at 1:28.920, and the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 Ford Ecoboost Riley at 1:29.627.
Bamber’s teammate Nick Tandy was a close second in GTLM, with Oliver Gavin third in the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Bamber and Tandy were fourth and fifth overall, faster than the three other Prototypes that took time, and three that didn’t – the two Mazda SKYACTIV diesels sat out the session, as did the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Honda-Ligier, which crashed hard Thursday and is still being repaired.
Also in the shop: The No. 17 GTLM Falken Porsche 911 RSR, which driver Bryan Sellers crashed in an incident very similar to Bamber’s mishap. This may be the last time we see the Falken team, which is the defending race winner, as Falken is leaving the sport after this race and the team’s future is uncertain.
Lawrence a shocker
In GT Daytona, part-timer Cameron Lawrence was the surprise top qualifier with a lap of 1:38.295 in the No. 93 Dodge Viper GT3-R, a team car to the No. 33 ViperExchange.com fielded by Ben Keating. The No. 93 is running only the four long endurance races – Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta – competing for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup honors, which the team presently leads.
Lawrence edged out home-towner Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche 911 GT America, who was about a half-second behind Lawrence. Lawrence said he went for it on his last lap, “braking deeper than I had before, and I was lucky it worked out.”
In Prototype Challenge, Tom Kimber-Smith put the PR1/Mathiasen No. 52 on the class pole with a lap of 132.378. They’ll start 10th on the grid, next to the No. 16 BAR1 car qualified by Johnny Mowlem.
Saturday’s race, which will decide the championships in all four classes, is expected to be wet, similar to the six-hour race during the summer at Watkins Glen. Earl Bamber said that Road Atlanta drains well, “It’s just that they’ve had so much steady rain here that the ground can’t absorb any more water.” There’s a 70 percent chance of rain Saturday, 80 percent for Saturday night.
One of the few drivers who seemed happy with the rain setup was Westbrook. “The car was fantastic,” he said. “But I was on the edge. There was talk of cancelling qualifying, and since we were the points leaders we’d be on the pole anyway, but we’re all racers, and I’m glad we got the chance to put it there properly.”
Both Bamber and Westbrook agreed that Saturday’s race could be less treacherous if there are few yellow flags, as more than 30 cars on the track at once helps keep the line a bit drier. Caution periods, though, allow the water to drain back on the track. “I’m afraid cautions might cause more cautions if that happens,” said Westbrook.
In all, 32 cars took at least one lap of qualifying, with five cars sitting it out.
Saturday begins with a 20-minute TUDOR Championship warm-up at 9 a.m. Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, Round 12 of the TUDOR Championship, takes the green flag at 11:10 a.m. FOX Sports 2 coverage airs from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET, followed by IMSA.com from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET.
FOX Sports 2 resumes coverage from 2:30 to 7 p.m. before going back to IMSA.com from 7 to 8:30 p.m. ET. Live television coverage of the conclusion airs from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2. IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile app will have live streaming, live timing and scoring, and IMSA Radio’s play-by-play. Sunday, there will be a three-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda highlights show beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.