DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rolex 24 At Daytona qualifying came early Sunday, in the form of a special session to determine pit and garage stall selections for the Jan. 27-28 endurance road racing classic at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Sunday’s action wrapped up three days of preparation for the 56th running of the Rolex 24, the season-opening race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Cars in the series’ three classes – Prototype, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – qualified separately for 15 minutes each, bringing a new component to the traditional Roar Before the Rolex 24 schedule and resulting in a spirited session involving 50 cars.
Qualifying first overall and in the series’ headlining Prototype class was Felipe Nasr, in the No. 31 Cadillac DPi of Action Express Racing.
Nasr’s fast lap of 1 minute, 35.806 seconds (133.764 mph) on the 3.56-mile road course came on his last lap. He was first in a top-four sweep for Cadillac, which is looking for its second consecutive Rolex 24 win after taking its debut race win last year.
“Today in qualifying, myself and Felipe Albuquerque who was driving our [Action Express] sister car; we gave everything we had,” Nasr said. “I pushed 100 percent. There was no hiding.”
Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais will go for their second consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 66 Ford GT in three weeks, and their title defense got off to a strong start at the Roar, as Hand was the fastest qualifier in the GT Le Mans class with a best lap of 1:43.610 (123.688 mph).
“It’s definitely an interesting situation to be doing a press conference about qualifying at the Roar,” said Hand. “You’re always trying to win practice and especially trying to win qualifying. So yeah, we went for it.”
The top six GTLM cars qualified within one second.
Lamborghini Huracán GT3s have been at or near the top of the GT Daytona time charts throughout the Roar Before the Rolex 24, including the class’ fastest overall lap of the weekend of 1:47.104 (119.653 mph), set in Friday’s first session by Rolf Ineichen in the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team entry.
It was more of the same in Sunday’s qualifying session, in which Ineichen’s teammate Mirko Bortolotti posted the fastest time of 1:47.374 (119.352 mph), securing prime garage space and pit selections for the No. 11 team that also includes drivers Franck Perera and Rik Breukers.
“We got a good spot for the race; now let’s see what kind of benefit we will get out of it,” said Bortolotti. “This was a session you could use [to prepare for the race].”
The top 18 cars in GTD – all but one of the 19 to participate in the qualifying session – were covered by less than one second.
In addition to Rolex 24-related activity, teams from the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge completed three days of practice in three production-based classes – Grand Sport, Street Tuner and Touring Car – for the BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour event set for Jan. 26.
IMSA Communications and Daytona Int’l Speedway contributed material to this staff report.