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Cadillacs Fill Out The Front Row At Rolex

| , RacinToday.com Friday, January 27 2017

The No. 5 Cadillac of Action Express Racing won the pole for this weekend’s Rolex 24.

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Qualifying for this weekend’s running of the Rolex 24 sports car race was held on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway and the new Cadillac’s stole the show.

On the pole for the event, which kicks off the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge series, was the No. 5 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Joao Barbosa with a lap of 1:36.903.

Right behind Barbosa was fellow Action Express driver Dame Cameron, who was  just 0.070 seconds back.

And third was the Rebellion ORECA Le Mans P2 No. 13 car, thanks to Neel Jani’s best lap of 1:37.123. Fourth was the No. 10  Cadillac of Ricky Taylor, who had the fastest car for most of the qualifying session before pitting before time ran out. NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon will serve as a co-driver on the No. 10.

Barbosa, who hasn’t qualified on a WeatherTech Championship pole since 2014, was a bit surprised. “We generally race better than we qualify,” he said, which could be a cautionary warning to the rest of the field. “This is going to be a tremendous race with the new Prototypes.”

There are 12 cars in the Prototype field – there were 11 qualifiers, as the very fast No. 81 DragonSpeed ORECA uncharacteristically crashed in practice earlier in the day with Loic Duval behind the wheel, and couldn’t be fixed by qualifying.

In GT Le Mans, the day belonged to the Ford GTs of Chip Ganassi Racing as they qualified first, second, third and sixth in the 11-car field.

On the pole was the No. 66 driven by Joey Hand, one of the drivers who won at Le Mans a year ago. “We feel like we’re more prepared this year,” he said. And how does he feel about the fact that his central competition may be his three teammates? “Well,” he said, “you just want to be the fastest bullet in the gun.” Hand’s best lap was 1:43.473 seconds, just ahead of Richard Westbrook’s 1:43.704 in the No. 67. Third was Olivier Pla in the No. 68, whose best lap was 1:43.987. Pla’s best lap was on the fourth tour around the circuit, which was lucky, as he later spun off the track and sat in the grass for most of the session.

Fourth was the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, with a lap of 1:44.121 by Toni Vilander. He said he well realizes the challenge the Ford contingent presents, but says, “We have a strong lineup of drivers, and we’re looking forward to the race. We won Petit Le Mans last year,” referring to the WeatherTech Championship 10-hour season finale at Road Atlanta, “And everything we have is the same or better. We’re the lonely riders – the only Ferrari in the class.”

The GT Le Mans class is mechanically much the same as it was in 2016, with one major exception. The No. 911 and No. 912 Porsche 911 RSRs run by the Porsche GT Team are all-new, with the most significant change being a shift from the traditional 911 rear-engine configuration to more of a mid-engine layout.

The rest of the cars – the Ford GT, Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, BMW M6 GTLM and the Ferrari 488 GTE are expected to benefit from having at least a year of competition behind them.

The Porsches were quick, but not quick enough: Patrick Pilet was fifth in the No. 911 car, and Kevin Estre was eighth in class in the No. 912.

In GT Daytona, it was Ferrari, Ferrari and Aston Martin. The front row in the class will be the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3, courtesy of Alessandro Pier Guidi, whose best lap was 1:47.099. “Ferrari and the team did a great job for me,” Pier Guidi. “I’m here for them.” He was not able to make pre-season testing at Daytona, so the pole win was impressive.

Close behind was the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Alessandro Balzan who, with co-driver Christina Nielsen, won the 2016 GTD title. The veteran Balzan’s best lap was 1:47.117, which he set in a Hail-Mary last lap that nearly earned him the top spot. “Scuderia Corsa gave me a really good car for qualifying, Balzan said. “There’s a good energy here for the team.”

| , RacinToday.com Friday, January 27 2017
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