Nick Ham Puts SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 on GT Pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif. (May 18, 2007) -- Outside of perhaps the Rolex 24 At Daytona, no Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve event is...
Nick Ham Puts SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 on GT Pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, Calif. (May 18, 2007) -- Outside of perhaps the Rolex 24 At Daytona, no Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve event is more important to the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 team than Saturday's U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (SPEED, 5/26, 8:00 p.m. ET).
That being the case, Nick Ham dug deep to put the No. 70 Mazdaspeed/Mazda RX-8 on the GT pole position with a last-lap flyer at 1:29.052 (90.473 mph) to put himself and co-driver Sylvain Tremblay in the catbird seat for Round 5 of the 13-race 2007 Rolex Series GT calendar. Ham and Tremblay currently share the GT points lead and would love nothing more than to pick up their third victory in five tries this season.
"It took until the last lap to get it," Ham said. "It was really important for us and for Mazda. This is their home track. With the whole program this year, it was just something we really wanted to do. It wasn't easy. I had to work at it. I kept catching traffic or I made a mistake on my other good lap. That last lap was a really good lap. I didn't leave anything on the table, and luckily we got it in just in time."
Ham's late surge to the pole relegated 19-year-old Eric Lux to second on the grid in the No. 74 Rembrandt Charms/Tafel Racing Porsche GT3. Lux posted a best lap at 1:29.185 (90.338 mph) in the car he shares this weekend with Ian James, who will also compete in Sunday's Daytona Prototype event and the KONI Challenge Series Monterey 200 for the Grand Sport class on Sunday. Lux is still looking for his first career Rolex Series class victory.
"Qualifying went pretty well until that last lap when the Mazda snatched it for me," Lux said. "We had an off in my last practice and the crew worked their butts off to get the car back to where it should be for qualifying. Like I guess you can see by the results, the car is excellent. Hopefully, we'll have a good race tomorrow and the tires will stay underneath us."
Craig Stanton qualified third in the No. 85 Shoes for Crews/Recaro Porsche GT3 with a lap at 1:29.278 (90.244 mph). Stanton, the 2005 Rolex Series GT champion, is standing-in for regular driver Dominik Farnbacher and will share the ride with Leh Keen. Stanton and Keen are looking to return the Farnbacher Loles Motorsports team to Victory Circle for the second consecutive event, as teammates Dirk Werner and Bryce Miller drove the team's No. 87 Marquis Jet/Recaro Porsche GT3 to the win in last month's VIR 400k.
"I was with them at Daytona for the 24-hour, and I'm just really pleased to be back with them," Stanton said. "I've been part of the organization all year doing a lot of their coaching and testing and whatnot. American road racing is pretty busy this weekend so I'm taking Dominik's spot with Leh, so Leh and I again are teammates. I'm happy to be back with him and his family, and the Farnbacher family, and Greg Loles is nothing but gracious whenever I come around. We're looking for a great finish here.
"Leh and I are really optimistic," Stanton continued. "We like about the same things, we like to go fast, and we like about the same car. The guys are doing, obviously, a great job. Everybody says that, but they really are a team and it's all about teamwork here. Monterey has always been a good place for us to race. We're in a good spot. We're third, and I'm happy with that. It's a long race. Leh and I know how to race. I'm really super optimistic."
Paul Edwards put the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R fourth on the grid with a lap at 1:29.362 (90.159 mph). Edwards and co-driver Kelly Collins have finished inside the top 10 in all four races thus far, but have yet to claim a victory this season.
Miller filled out the top five in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3 with a lap at 1:29.627 (89.893 mph). Miller and Werner are looking for their second consecutive GT class win, and their fourth consecutive top-four result in the U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express.
The GT machines will crank it up for 112 laps (250.656 miles, 400 kilometers) or two-and-a-half hours beginning at 3:20 p.m. PT. Live coverage of the event--including live Timing & Scoring data and audio webcasts--is available on the official web site of Grand-Am, www.grand-am.com.
GURNEY QUICKEST IN DAYTONA PROTOTYPE PRACTICE
Alex Gurney logged a best lap at 1:20.844 (99.659 mph) in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley to lead the first day of practice for Daytona Prototypes in preparation for Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (SPEED, Live, 4:00 p.m. ET).
Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty have combined to put the No. 99 machine on the front row for every Rolex Series event thus far in 2007 and the duo appears in good position to keep that streak alive if practice results are any indication. Gurney and Fogarty--who are both native Californians--picked up their first career Rolex Series victory in the Mexico City 400k earlier this year.
"This is a great way to start off the weekend," Gurney said. "The GAINSCO Pontiac is really hooked up all around the track. We've even surprised ourselves a little bit but we'll take it for sure. The new track surface is all-around grippier, and thanks to Kyle Brannan, our engineer, I think we've got a setup that takes advantage of that grip better than anyone else. We don't seem to have a weak spot anywhere so we'll just try to keep this going into tomorrow and give Jon a shot at the pole in qualifying."
Colin Braun--who has started from the pole position in two of the first four races of the season--was second-quickest in Friday's practice with a lap at 1:21.393 (98.986 mph) in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley. Braun and co-driver Max Papis have finished second in two of the four events, but head into the U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express still looking for their first victory of the season.
"I'm not so sure that practice and qualifying really makes much difference when it comes to the race time," Braun said. "I wish we could figure out a way to start winning races. It doesn't pay us to be that quick here in practice and not in the race. We're working on trying to find a car that's really consistent in the race. With this being a Daytona Prototype only weekend, we're focusing on trying to make a car that's good on long runs and will be there at the end."
Scott Pruett was third-quickest in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley with a lap at 1:21.499 (98.858 mph), which came in the second session of the day. Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas are still looking for their first Rolex Series victory together, although Pruett did win the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona with co-drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran and held the Daytona Prototype points lead until the VIR 400 last month when he and Rojas finished eighth.
"The TELMEX car seems real good," Pruett said. "We ran just old tires, like we always do. We ran our quickest lap on our last lap, so we're cautiously optimistic. When we put new tires on, it's always typically worth a half second or more. We're pretty pleased. We'd like to certainly have a good run here this weekend. It'd be good for my teammate, Memo, to kind of really get some momentum going for him, and good for the team. Overall, it's pretty good."
Patrick Long was fourth-quickest in the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford with a lap at 1:21.587 (98.751 mph). Long and co-driver Jorg Bergmeister--the defending Daytona Prototype champion--are still looking for their first win of the season as well. Christian Fittipaldi completed the top five with a lap at 1:21.614 (98.718 mph) in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar. Fittipaldi is sharing the ride with Harrison Brix.