Last year’s Rolex 24 At DAYTONA champion team is this year’s polesitter. Renger van der Zande is the driver responsible, having posted a fast lap of 1 minute, 36.083 seconds (133.378 mph) in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi during Thursday’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway.
A new addition to Wayne Taylor Racing, van der Zande replaces Ricky Taylor who left to join the new Acura Team Penske lineup. Last year Ricky and his brother Jordan co-drove the No. 10 to the Rolex 24 victory (with Jeff Gordon and Max Angelelli) and went on to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the Prototype class with a dominating season. For the Rolex 24 this year, van der Zande and Jordan Taylor are joined by former Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
In recent years, qualifying for the Rolex 24 has taken on added importance due to increasingly tight competition that has produced surprisingly close finishes in this twice-around-the-clock event. The days of wide margins of victory are gone. Teams, more than ever, place value on starting near the front, knowing that can help facilitate an up-front finish.
At the end of the 15-minute qualifying session, van der Zande was at the front – barely. Qualifying second, only .007 seconds behind, was three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves in one of two Roger Penske-owned Acura DPis. Qualifying third was Felipe Albuquerque in the Cadillac DPi of Mustang Sampling Racing. The best lap for van der Zande was his ninth (and last) around the 3.56-mile road course, allowing him to edge Castroneves for the pole.
“I’m super thrilled to be here and super thrilled to be in this seat,” said van der Zande, who advanced to the Prototype class last year from IMSA’s Prototype Challenge competition. “It’s been tough at the same time, because these guys (at Wayne Taylor Racing) expect a lot from you. I think this is why they know how to win a championship.”
Former Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso qualified 13th in the No. 23 Ligier LMP2 Prototype of United Autosports. Alonso is co-driving with Lando Norris and Phil Hanson.
“I think it was a good session for us,” Alonso said. “It was nice to have some laps, finally, with no traffic. When we are in the [all class] practice there is a lot of traffic and a lot going on. In the Prototype qualifying you can put some laps together.”
Jan Magnussen took the pole in the GT Le Mans class, in the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Corvette Racing. In the GT Daytona class, the pole went to Daniel Serra and the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GT3.
Prior to qualifying for the Rolex 24, qualifying was also held for Friday’s BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour event (1-5 p.m.) featuring production-based cars in the season-opener for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series. Veteran road-racer Spencer Pumpelly put the No. 28 Porsche Cayman GT4 M4 on the pole via a 1 minute, 55.136-seconds (111.306 mph) lap. That effort also topped the series’ headlining Grand Sport (GS) class. The Touring Car (TCR) class pole was won by Kuno Wittmer in the No. 74 Audi RS3 (2:00.550/106.307). In the Street Tuner (ST) class, Devin Jones (2:04.217/103.169) took the pole in the No. 81 BMW 328i.
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