The heat is on! Sounds like a song. That’s the story at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Verizon Festival of Speed. Even with a strong breeze, it’s hot, hot, hot with 93 F weather. MEMO ROJAS/No.01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley Daytona Prototype has the pole for the Grand-Am Rolex Series race Sunday afternoon. His time of 1:19.874/100.868 mph almost but did not quite break the existing DP qualifying record of 1:19.843/100.908 mph set last year by DAVID DONOHUE/No.58 Brumos Porsche Riley. This was the first time this weekend any driver got below the 1:20’s on track. 

Rojas’ co-driver is SCOTT PRUETT. Rojas said that Pruett “is very much a team player. That attitude really helped us out, and we share a lot and it works for us.” Sunday, as part of the pre-race activities, Pruett will receive the MSPA (Motor Sports Press Association of Northern California) Road Racer of the Year award for his outstanding 2008 season.

This is the second DP pole for Rojas in his only two qualifying attempts – the only DP driver to have two DP poles in the four run so far this season. 

Rojas said “We were really struggling yesterday and we thought our lost our way because we were slow. We had a lot of engineer debrief sessions yesterday. Today the run went clean. It was little hot out there, with no traffic. I’m happy to be on pole.?

“Fryin’ BRIAN FRISSELLE/No.10 Sun Trust Racing Ford Dallara is on the outside front DP row – his first front row position. This is the first year with Sun Trust Racing for the 25-year old, who looks young enough to be carded. He’s very happy to be paired with veteran driver, MAX  ‘The Ax’ ANGELELLI. 

NICK HAM/No.70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8-R3 was the top GT driver at 1:27.251/92.340 mph, not quite as fast as the GT record he set last year at Laguna. This is his home track and he felt he had to get the pole. Ham complimented LEH KEEN/No.87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3 for moving over at the right time to let Ham by, saying Keen “was a real gentleman.” Keen had led at one point during the 15-minute GT qualifying session, and will start on the outside of the GT front row.

This is the third GT pole for the SpeedSource team and the second for Ham – the only multiple Rolex Series pole winner at the Monterey road course.

Ham and Keen both discussed problems with their small tires, and that their two manufacturers want some concessions on the tires (such as a different compound or size), before anyone gets hurt out there. It’s a wear issue… doing a full stint of in the hour-long fuel window. If the hour is all green-flag racing, the drivers have to pace themselves so the tires don’t wear out. They feel they need a different compound or more patch on the track. Porsche has so much more weight on the rear tires – about 150 pounds. The sidewall has trouble supporting it. They’re all worried about tire failure. They feel the Pontiacs and Mazda’s are more balanced.

“But hey,” said Ham. “The bottom line is we got the pole, we’re happy and Grand-Am is doing a good job.” Ham said “I assure you I left nothing on the table.”

The drivers were asked about issue of dirt on the track being a problem or not.

Keen said he’d seen much worse. “At Laguna there was a narrow but clean line around the track, and the red kerbs were helpful. Also, I was glad to see the extra asphalt coming into Turn Two.”

Frisselle said “There was some dirt in the corkscrew. Someone left a ton of rocks when he went off track. But the track has great flaggers (San Francisco Region SCCA volunteer corner workers)  and they had the flags out, so we were able to anticipate it. If you hit that, it definitely changes the characteristics of the cars.”

Rojas agreed. “When we run with GT’s a lot of things happen all the time.” Ham said “There’s not much to do, but adapt and change line or drive through it and hold the wheel.”

The No.2 Childress-Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford didn’t qualify. The qualifying driver, ROB FINLAY, had business commitments and couldn’t be at the track, so the car will start at the back of the 16-car DP field. Finlay’s co-driver is ANDY WALLACE.

All the drivers agreed that Saturday’s hot temperatures allowed the tires to warm up quicker than Saturday. Frisselle’s team was able to run both days on one set of tires, saving a sticker set for the race.

Sunday’s race starts at 1 PM PDT and will be shown live on SPEED TV.