ALTON, Va. – official release — Phillip Abbott/LAT photo — Coming off its first GT Le Mans (GTLM) victory in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship competition, Ferrari led the field in Saturday’s qualifying for the Oak Tree Grand Prix at Virginia Int’l Raceway.
Pierre Kaffer ran a lap of one minute, 43.797 seconds (113.414 mph) to capture his first pole in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia after the team recovered from an incident in morning practice. It was the second pole of the year for the team, with co-driver Giancarlo Fisichella leading qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The car was damaged less than three hours before qualifying when Fisichella made contact after going off in turn 11 on the 3.27-mile layout. The Risi Competizione team replaced or repaired the driver’s door, front fender, splitter, radiator and undertray to have the car ready for qualifying.
“It’s not so easy to just step in the car, like at a track here at VIR, where it is important to drive really on the right line,” said Kaffer, who became the ninth different GTLM pole winner in nine races this season. “The guys did a fantastic job after this morning’s incident, and this was one of the best cars I’ve ever had.”
Bill Auberlen seemed poised to earn his first pole of the season in BMW Team RLL’s No. 55 Crowne Plaza BMW Z4 GTE with a lap of 1:44.053 (113.135 mph) before Kaffer jumped to the top of the leaderboard with four minutes remaining in the session. Kaffer bettered that time on his next lap to grab the pole by 0.256 seconds.
The morning practice ended with an accident involving GTLM points leader Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and Richard Lietz in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR. Though the Corvette was repaired in time for qualifying, Porsche North America is evaluating its options for the event. Lietz, winner of the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona in January, was treated for a fractured left arm and released from an area hospital.
Remarkably, Corvette Racing completed repairs in time for Garcia to qualify sixth. The team won four consecutive races earlier this season, and enters the event with an eight-point lead in the standings, 245-237.
“My team went from an almost destroyed car at 10 a.m. to a car that missed the front row by half a tenth of a second shortly after noon,” Garcia said. “You need to have guys like that to really trust the car and go for it again. If it wasn’t 100 percent, it was 99.9 percent. We didn’t need an incident like this morning towards the championship hunt, so I’m glad we made it back on track. Initially, I wanted just to be in front of the GTD cars, but when I found the car was drivable and very competitive, I decided to go for it.”
Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer are second in the GTLM points, with Bomarito qualifying the No. 93 SRT Motorsports Dodge SRT Viper GTS-R in fifth.
James Davison captured the pole for the GT Daytona (GTD) class. He was driving the No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage that was badly damaged in morning warmups two weeks ago – one day after Davison won his first pole of the year at Road America.
“We went through hell and back after last weekend,” said Davison. “We’ve been working non-stop, and we even missed the first practice yesterday. The team really did a great job and we finally got out halfway through yesterday’s second practice. I feel comfortable with the way it’s setup. It’s nice to win the pole, but it’s more important to have a good day tomorrow.”
Patrick Dempsey missed qualifying after damaging the No. 27 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America, but the team expects to have the car ready in time for Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. ET start.