Veteran driver puts his Ganassi Ford on the Prototype pole at COTA.
How do you save a disappointing season?
Scott Pruett, who co-drives the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley with Joey Hand, took a big step toward making that happen late Friday afternoon when he qualified the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Prototype on the pole for Saturday’s Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Pruett and Hand were second at Long Beach and Watkin Glen, but they haven’t visited victory lane so far this season. But if there’s a prime place to turn the season around, it’s at Circuit of the Americas – he and his previous co-driver, Memo Rojas, won the race here last year.
“This year,” Pruett said, “we’re coming in to the race with one focus, and that’s to win. Typically, we’re worried about the championship so we’re conservative, we’re cautious, we don’t take risks. But this year, it’s all about winning.”
Rojas, incidentally, moved over to the No. 0 DeltaWing for 2015, and Pruett said that car, though Rojas and co-driver Katharine Legge only qualified seventh, could be a factor: “The DeltaWing has a ton of straightaway speed,” Pruett said.
In Prototype qualifying, Pruett laid down a fast lap – one minute, 58.441 seconds, with a speed of 103.343 mph. His closest competition was another team that needs a good run – the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 of John Pew and Oswaldo Negri, Jr., with a best lap of 1:58.512.
That team has one second and two thirds this year, and with only to races left in the season – this one, and the 10-hour closer, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta – time is running out to earn a victory.
Third in Prototype qualifying was the No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Chevrolet Corvette of defending season champions Christian Fittipalid and Joao Barbosa, with a lap of 159.008. The No. 5 car is involved in a three-way battle for the points lead where three teams are separated by just two points – they are in second, with the No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP, a team Action Express car to the No. 5 in third. The No. 3, with Eric Curran and Dane Cameron, qualified fifth.
Points leader has a close call
Leading the points coming to Austin was the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP of Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook. They qualified sixth, after Valiante spun at the top of the hill in Turn 1, but he was able to restart.
Fourth in Prototype qualifying on the hot track was the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP of Wayne Taylor Racing, with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor as the drivers.
Jordan is convinced heat may be a factor Saturday. “It’s going to be really warm tomorrow, probably our hottest race of the year. That, with a pretty physical track, will make for a long race. We’ll try and hydrate as much as possible tonight and try and stay as cool as possible tomorrow.”
In GT Le Mans, points leader Patrick Pilet topped qualifying with a lap of 2:04.396 in the No. 911 Porsche North America entry he shares with 24 Hours of Le Mans winner. Second was Dirk Werner 2:04.490 in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL Z4 GTE. Third was Earl Bamber in the No. 912 car, a sister Porsche to Pilet’s car, with a lap of 2:04.625.
The Porsche 911 RSRs remain strong despite the fact that IMSA added 44 pounds to the Porsches for this race.
Audi on GT Daytona pole
In GT Daytona, Dion Von Moltke put his No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS on the pole with a lap of 2:11.097. Second was Texan Ben Keating in his No. 33 Riley Dodge Viper GT3R with a lap of 2:11.658. Bill Sweedler was third, lapping his No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia at 2:11.729.
Chris Cumming posted the fastest lap in Prototype Challenge, a 2:02.222 in the RSR AutoMaxUSA ORECA/Chevrolet he co-drives with Bruno Junquiera. They were followed by the No. 85 JDC/Miller car of Matt McMurry with a lap of 202.697. Third was James French in the No. 38 Performance Tech car, whose best lap was 2:03.586.
Race time is 12:35 p.m. ET Saturday with FOX Sports 2 providing the live TV broadcast beginning at 12:30 p.m. The race will be rebroadcast in its entirety by FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions is available at IMSA.com and the IMSA smartphone app.