The Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase Round Three qualifying session was riveting, especially the last few laps of the Prototype category.
In the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Series Prototype class, young Ricky Taylor/No.10 Wayne Taylor Racing Chevrolet and veteran/multi-time champion, Scott Pruett/No. 01 Ford swapped fastest laps four times. Both times Pruett bested Taylor’s top lap; and the kid came back and beat Pruett at his own game. It was drama. It was theater.
Taylor prevailed and took the pole with a lap of 1:14.790/94.729 mph – a new track record, ahead of Pruett’s 1:1:048. It was Taylor’s eleventh pole position. He shares driving duties with his younger brother, Jordan, and they race for their father, sports car champion Wayne Taylor.
Third in Prototypes was Christian Fittipaldi/No.5 Action Express Chevrolet at 1:15.274.
Taylor said “Track position is so important. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a pole. We were really quick and I was fastest in the final practice before qualifying by a little bit.”
The top six Prototype qualifiers were faster than last year’s pole sitter.
In the hotly contested GTLM class, wily and admittedly old Bill Auberlen/No.25 BMW Z4 GTE took the pole at 1:17.268 – also a track record. Second and third were John Edwards/No.24 BMW Z4 GTE at 1:17.516 and Giancarlo Fisichella/No.62 Ferrari F458 Italia at 17.709. Auberlen admitted to being 46 years old and racing against youngsters barely out of diapers – in their twenties. Driving like he stole it, Auberlen was described as “dirt-tracking his car around several corners, running right on the edge.”
Fisichella really pulled it out of the hat. He hit a tire wall during the last moments of the final practice session right before qualifying.
Fifteen of the seventeen entries were out in qualifying.
The TUDOR series won’t have any warm-up, which means the next time the 17 cars are on track will be for Saturday’s race at 4:05pm PDT.
The Pirelli World Challenge Series has the largest field of the Grand Prix weekend – forty cars, spread through two classes – GT (32) and GTC (8).
Veteran and champion driver, Peter Cunningham/No.42 RealTime/Acura Motorsports/HPD/Acura TLX-GT was the fastest overall and GT driver, at 1:20.274/82.257mph. This was better than the existing track record of 1:20.386/88.134 mph set last year by Johnny O’Connell in a Cadillac CTS-V.R.
Also besting his last year’s record lap was Johnny O’ again in the Cadillac.
Colin Thompson/No.11 Porsche of Bucks County/PenVal/Porsche 911 GT3 CUP was the fastest GTC driver, at 1:23.926/84.417 mph, in thirty-third overall. No records were broken in this class.
PWC qualifies first thing Saturday morning and then has the rest of day off and also much of Sunday. Its “Roar by the Shore presented by Replay XD” race will run at 4:30pm PDT Sunday, after the IndyCar race and Drifting Demonstration.
Everyone loves coming to the Long Beach race, for a variety of reasons. Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – History; Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda – People; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet – Events. Rahal said he was impressed by the numbers he saw, and hearing that sales were good. He hoped for a crowd even bigger than last year’s good crowd.
Taylor said ““Long Beach is a really special event. It’s only our second year here and there’s already a crowd like I’ve never seen before. It’s a really cool atmosphere. Everyone wants to be on pole and win here.”
Auberlen said “You can feel the energy here. This is my home track. For me, this place is my crown jewel, racing in front of my friends and family. This is the 41st Grand Prix of Long Beach, and I was here for the first one, watching as a kid.”
All music to the ears of Jim Michaelian, President of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach.