Zonta Garners First Career Grand-Am Rolex Series Pole

Ricardo Zonta is congratulated by crew

It's been a learning season for Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 rookie Ricardo Zonta, racing on unfamiliar circuits while his team developed a new Daytona Prototype chassis. Friday, it all came together on the final lap of qualifying, as the Brazilian Formula One veteran captured the pole for the 2008 season finale in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola.

Zonta ran a Miller Motorsports Park track record lap of 2:35.664 (103.747 mph) in drying conditions on the mammoth 4.486-mile, 23-turn circuit, earning his first career pole – and the first for the Lola – in qualifying for the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels. The 139-lap race with a six-hour, 45-minute time limit will be televised live, flag to flag, on SPEED (1 p.m. ET).

"My last lap was perfect – no mistakes – and the car was really good," said Zonta, who will co-drive with Nic Jonsson. "We had a perfect car for that moment.

Ricardo Zonta

"This is a long track to do a lap without making a mistake," added Zonta, who has a pair of third-place finishes this year. "You have to be very focused here. It helps to have a very good car, and the team has improved a lot since the race at Barber in July."

Zonta's last lap knocked Scott Pruett off the pole. Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas need to each run 30 minutes in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley in the 139 to share the 2008 Daytona Prototype championship. Pruett help the top spot up until the final moments of qualifying with a lap of 2:35.819 (103.643 mph).

David Donohue will start third in the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley he co-drives with Darren Law and Buddy Rice, 2:35.823 (103.641 mph), while Max Angelelli ran a lap of 2:36.011 (103.522 mph) in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley co-driven by Michael Valiante to start fourth. Donohue and Valiante end the season tied atop the 2008 leaders with three poles apiece.

Fastest in practice, Joey Hand ran a lap of 2:36.131 (103.436 mph) in the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche Riley co-driven by Bill Auberlen to start fifth. Rounding out the top 10 qualifiers were Antonio Garcia, Alex Gurney, Ian James, Mark Wilkins and Matt Plumb.

Keen captures first pole in GT qualifying, Edwards leads contenders

While Daytona Prototype qualifying was run in mixed drizzle and drying conditions, steady rain fell through much of the GT qualifying session, only to let off in the closing minutes. Leh Keen took advantage of the changing conditions to capture his first GT pole in the final seconds, running a lap of 2:52.252 (93.756 mph) in the No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3 co-driven by Eric Lux. He knocked teammate Wolf Henzler off the pole, with Henzler running a lap of 2:52.724 (93.499 mph) in the No. 87 Porsche GT3 co-driven by Bryce Miller and Dirk Werner.

Spencer Pumpelly gave Porsche a sweep of the top three in qualifying with a best time of 2:55.203 (92.177 mph) in the No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3.

Two of the top five qualifiers are also in contention for the GT Championship, which is proving to be a heated three-way battle entering the season finale.

Point leader Paul Edwards qualified fourth in the No. 07 Banner Racing Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R in fourth position with a time of 2:55.323 (92.113 mph). Edwards and co-driver Kelly Collins lead the GT point standings with 338, six points ahead of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Stevenson Automotive Pontiac GXP.R, and 13 points atop Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazdaspeed/Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8.

Tremblay will start fifth with a time of 2:56.254 (91.627 mph), while Davis qualified 10th with a lap of 2:59.094 (90.174 mph). Ham was the only driver to win multiple poles in GT competition in 2008, setting fastest time on three occasions.

The SunRichGourmet.com 1000 takes the green flag at 11:08 a.m. MT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on SPEED, beginning at 1 p.m. ET.


Ricardo Zonta (No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola): "It's a long track to do a lap without making a mistake. You have to be very focused here. It helps to have a very good car, and the team has improved it a lot since the race at Barber in July. Now, it's quite quick.

"Talking about the team, it feels like a family. I feel very close to everyone on the team. Winning the pole, it's very positive for us because we've worked so hard and came so close all season. We had many problems this season, but to win the pole for the last race is big break for us. What's most important is tomorrow, not only qualifying. But we're a lot happier now than before. The beginning of qualifying was very, very slippery because it was beginning to rain. In two corners under very heavy breaking, it was very slippery. But every lap it was getting better and better, so my last lap was perfect – no mistakes and the car was really good. We had a perfect car for that moment."

Scott Pruett (No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley): "We made some improvements on the car from our test day yesterday and we really just focused on fine tuning the car for the race tomorrow. We were sitting P-1 until the No.76 bumped us out on the last lap. We're starting on the front row, it will be a long race and I'm looking forward to closing up the championship here."

David Donohue (No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley): "The pole would have been nice. It would have been nice to get a fourth one – I would have been the only driver to get four poles this year, but I left too much on the table and made some mistakes. But Brumos Racing has done a great job with the 58 and 59 cars. We're in the hunt. It's a really, really good race car. We'll see what we got tomorrow. I only want to be the leader of one lap, the last one tomorrow. We missed the pole, and I'm fine with that but a little discouraged because these guys deserved it. They deserve a win."

Max Angelelli (No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara): "I'm not very happy, but that's the way it ended and I'll have to live with it. Tomorrow's another day, and I want to win this race."

Joey Hand (No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche Riley): "It just took a turn for the worse for us. The weather and the rain wasn't good for us. The car's been really, really good this weekend, but it wasn't quite as good as it was earlier. I struggled to really put one down. I got one going there at the end, I put down a real good one all the way to the last corner. Then I put off two wheels coming on to the front straight, and I gave it all away. It looked like it probably had a P-2 or P-3 time in it. It took a lot more work than it did this morning. We're going to look at some stuff. The wind changed direction on us, and it got cool and slippery, and the balance went away. I think we'll be good in the race tomorrow."

Leh Keen (No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3): It was dry and then it started raining on the out-lap. I thought, 'Oh, no!' because then the first car out would have the best opportunity. So it was raining and it was a mess and everybody was going slow. Then right at the end, it started drying up and Frank [Resciniti, team manager and 86 strategist] got on the radio and said, 'It's last lap!' There was a dry line forming everywhere except where it had been raining really bad, but I figured since a lap is so long here, by the time I did a whole lap, it would probably be dry. So I braked 100 feet later in turn one and just kinda crossed my fingers and went for it. A couple of corners went by and I realized there was some grip, so I went with it and went pretty much all out. I just had to do what I had to do. It turned out awesome, being the last car. The strategy was great!"

Wolf Henzler (No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3): "We had difficult conditions because of the rain in the beginning, and on my first time out, in the hard rain and on slick tires, I slid around. I was fifth after the first lap, and because other cars have left earlier, I thought we couldn't go any faster. But the track dried out quickly, so we stayed out and got second on the last lap. It was quickest for basically everyone. I'm happy about the team's performance; it's very good. To have a teammate next to me means less trouble in the first corner."

Paul Edwards (No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R): "We went out with new brakes and rotors on the car, so we took it a little easy. We luckily were one of the first five on the track but I kind of held back a lot. We got a decent lap in the beginning. The No. 57 car spun in front of me. Hopefully the track was going to dry. I thought I was going to be the first one of the last to get the checkered (flag) but I came into (Turn) 19 and heard there was two minutes to go. I thought, ‘Man, the whole field is going to get the checkered behind me.' So I pushed really hard and I got really loose in Turns 1, 2 and 3. The track was pretty much completely dry by the time I got to Turn 7 and it was really awesome. It's going to be a good race.

"You just want to go out there and race. We've still got to be strategic and we'll wonder where our two biggest competitors are. This race means everything to us. Everything comes down to this race with the team championship, the driver championship and the manufactures' championship. Everything you do out there is important."

Sylvain Tremblay (No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8): "It was an interesting session. We knew that the weather would be changing, and that's always a tough call for what to do. It's started raining, then drying, then raining, and the guys told me, ‘Okay, you're in 13th, focus on the big picture with the championship, call it a day.' But I said, ‘It's drying guys. Let me just work at it a little bit more.' Sure enough, it got a little bit dryer and my confidence went up. We shot up to P-2, so the crew was ecstatic. But then, the people who were behind me pushed (my time) back down to fifth. We're really happy in that position. One team we are racing in the championship came in right ahead of us and the other one is a couple of cars back. The cream always rises to the top and we'll do what we need to do.

"I feel really proud. We've had a fantastic year, regardless of what happens for tomorrow. Daytona is so special to Mazda, to me that is almost a season unto itself. To have the success of the entire team – not only us but also the No. 69 car – we're just really proud of the effort Mazda's put forward and that we are contenders for this GT championship. At the beginning of every season, I think you want a shot at the championship and we've got that in spades. It can go either way and we're ready to do whatever. We're just really, really proud."

Robin Liddell (No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R): "In terms of qualifying, I don't think it will have any bearing on what we'll do tomorrow. I think it was all about track position. It was just dealing with the (weather) conditions and making the best of what you were dealt. (Qualifying) is pretty far out of the equation as far as the race is concerned. I think we felt the car was quite a bit better today than it was yesterday. We needed to make some more improvements and we wanted to verify those changes during qualifying. I think we'll leave the car pretty much as it is for the moment. I think we'll be in good shape. The one unknown for us was the tires because we hadn't run new tires until we qualified. I do think there is a little bit more to come but I think we'll be in reasonable shape. At this point in time, you just recognize that you've got what you've got. You just need to get on with it and not over analyze where you're going to go with it."

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