Michael Shank Racing to start 1-2 for Rolex 24
Posting a lap that bested the previous Daytona Prototype track record by more than two-and-a-half seconds, Brazilian Oswaldo Negri Jr. drove his No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley to a lap time of 1:40.793 (127.151 mph) around the 3.56-mile road course, capturing the pole for America's longest professional sports car race.
"This is a great way to start our relationship with Ford Racing and I can't say how pleased I am to be on pole," said Negri, who was using Ford power for the first time in Daytona Prototype competition. "This is nothing compared to the effort we have ahead of us for the race, but it obviously feels good to set this record time and to have my teammate AJ right next to me on the front row. I've been saying that this Michael Shank Racing team is the best, and it's fantastic we can show that here today. Hopefully we can do what we came here to do and win this race."
Negri will lead a field of 67 cars - 25 Daytona Prototypes and 42 GT machines - to the green flag on Saturday before passing the No. 60 machine to season-long co-driver Mark Patterson and Champ Car stars Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson.
Second fastest was the Michael Shank Racing sister car, the No. 6 Ford Riley qualified by NASCAR Sprint Cup regular A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger is driving for Michael Shank Racing in his third consecutive Rolex 24.
"Mike Shank has put together a great team and I love coming to race for these guys, so it feels good to put them on the front row," said Allmendinger. "Mike (Shank) is a racer to the core, and this team is full of a lot of good guys. Everyone has fun, but they are focused on getting the job done. The car was strong, and this is a great way to start the weekend, but everyone knows that this is a long race and the work really happens on Saturday once the race starts."
Allmendinger will co-drive the No. 6 machine with Rolex Series regulars Ian James, John Pew and Burt Frisselle.
Belgian Marc Goossens qualified third with a time of 1:41.041 (126.840 mph), also bettering the previous lap record set by Alex Gurney in 2007. Goossens will co-drive with season-long teammate Jim Matthews, IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Ryan Hunter-Reay and sports car star Johnny O'Connell.
Max Angelelli (1:41.161, 126.689 mph) in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley and Mark Wilkins (1:41.413, 126.374 mph) in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Exchange Traded Gold/Barrick Gold Ford Riley qualified fourth and fifth, respectively.
In GT qualifying, the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Syntec/Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8 of Sylvain Tremblay was fastest of four manufacturers in the class's top five. Tremblay's time of 1:50.758 (115.711 mph) topped the previous GT class record of 1:51.800, set by Patrick Huisman in last year's event.
While the pole isn't a barometer of success in a 24 hour race, it does prove the car's speed.
"The main thing for us is validation of all of our hard work," Tremblay said. "You need to have a fast car to win here. Obviously, the fastest car doesn't always win after 24 hours, but it definitely doesn't hurt. Also, because of the depth of the field, we really felt that starting up front and staying up front is key for us, especially early on."
Tremblay, who has a best class finish of second in the 2002 Rolex 24, will search for his first GT win with co-drivers Nick Ham, David Haskell and Champ Car Atlantic Champion Raphael Matos.
While SpeedSource battled down to the wire for a GT class championship last season, they'll start alongside of relative newcomer to the Rolex Series. Christian Montanari piloted the Mastercar Ferrari F430 around the Daytona road course in a time of 1:50.873 (115.592 mph) in the team's first appearance at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"Honestly, we were really surprised, me and the team," Montanari said. "I think we did a very good job today. It is my second time in Daytona at the Rolex 24. First time with Ferrari, first time in GT and my first time with the team. I think we did a very good job today. We'll see for the race, because it's very long."
Montanari, who drove a SAMAX Daytona Prototype to a sixth place finish in last year's Rolex 24, will be joined by Thomas Biagi, Matthew Marsh and Luis Monson in one of two Ferarris entered into the event.
Spencer Pumpelly was the fastest Porsche in the session and third quickest overall, piloting the No. 67 TRG Monster Cable/Need For Speed Porsche GT3 to a lap of 1:50.945 (115.517 mph). Pumpelly will pilot the TRG machine with co-drivers Emmanuel Collard, Romain Dumas, Tim George Jr. and Bryan Sellers.
Johnny Mowlem (1:51.348, 115.099 mph) in the No. 34 Orbit PositiveOutput.com Porsche GT3 and Diego Alesi (1:51.450, 114.993 mph) in the Matt Connolly Motorsports CityDeals.com Pontiac GXP.R rounded out the GT class top five.
The top 30 times posted overall have been locked in for Saturday's grid. Twenty-four of the 25 Daytona Prototypes posted a qualifying time, while six GT cars locked in times. The remaining 36 GT machines may try to improve their times tomorrow for positions 7 through 42.
The Rolex Series returns to the track for practice at 9 a.m. Friday, with final qualifying at 11:40 a.m. The final practice for the Rolex 24 At Daytona is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, with the twice-around-the-clock commencing at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and ending at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Rolex 24 At Daytona First-Round Qualifying Results
(listed with position, car number in parenthesis, team, car, time, speed in mph)
1. (60) Oswaldo Negri Jr., DP, Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, 1:40.793, 127.152.
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