Acura Sponsorship Pushes Penske to 1-2; Ohio natives John Edwards & BMW Team RLL take GTLM pole; Jack Hawksworth leads Lexus GTD lockout
After dominating the practice sessions at Mid-Ohio, Acura Team Penske claim a spectacular front row lockout for tomorrow’s Acura Sportscar Grand Prix. The clearer skies and drier tracks made a change from the aquatic practice conditions, but with Acura’s factory only a few miles away and their logo everywhere, Dane Cameron and Helio Castroneves put on a show.
IMSA’s qualifying structure of three separate 15 minute sessions – one each for GTD, GTLM and Prototype – always promises intense action. Despite the short session length, all classes took their time getting up to speed, cycling heat into their tyres and getting their eye in for where the different conditions were offering laptimes.
The GTD field went first and early blood went to the 3GT Lexus crews, Jack Hawksworth and Kyle Marcelli pushing each other in the chrome red and blue cars. Championship leader Madison Snow was at Mid-Ohio for the first time but was immediately on it, dragging the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini up the timing charts to third.
Local team Meyer Shank Racing, fresh off the back of an announcement that their second #86 Acura NSX with Katherine Legge & Álvaro Parente would compete, had both their cars in the top six early on. Legge snuck into third with three minutes to go, setting a 1:19.933 that beat Snow’s 1:19.953 effort. Turner Motorsport’s another Ohio-based team, and they had BMW stalwart Bill Auberlen in the garage watching Dillon Machavern’s fine efforts reward the team with fifth.
Hawksworth just held pole from teammate Kyle Marcelli, Snow throwing down a late flyer to send Legge back to fourth. Yet another Ohio team had two cars in the top ten – Christina Nielsen and Mike Schein put their Wright Motorsport Porsches in seventh and ninth respectively.
This was Hawksworth’s first pole in GTD competition – the Brit clearly very happy with the direction the 3GT Lexus team is moving. “It’s really good – a great day for Lexus, a great day for 3GT with both cars on the front row”
“We’ve got slightly different strategies on both cars, so we’ve got quite an open window for what we want to do and from our side, we hope it’s a fairly green, straightforward race,” added Hawksworth. With mixed conditions expected for the race tomorrow and limited passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio, minimising time spent in the pits for tyre changes will be key to success.
Despite Ford looking like they were the team to beat in practice, the GTLM fight was between BMW and Porsche. A very slow start to the session saw the field setting laps in the 1:21 range as they brought the tyres in before pulling the pin on a flyer.
Cincinnati boy John Edwards set the first benchmark, a 1:19.019 just beating teammate Alexander Sims’ 1:19.093. Tommy Milner was confident of pole before the session but could only go third with a 1:19.459, which was almost immediately beaten when Ford’s Dirk Müller set a 1:19.191.
With eight minutes left, Sims smashed the 1:19 barrier with a 1:18.6 before Edwards’ purple first and second sectors resulted in a 1:18.503 for a provisional BMW 1-2. Despite being an IMSA champion, Corvette’s Antonio García has never finished higher than fifth at Mid-Ohio – his first real flyer put him third, just half a tenth back from Sims. With the Corvette Racing crew chasing their 100th win on US soil, the Spaniard immediately went into another hotlap.
Ryan Briscoe was next to unleash his car, scraping another half tenth off the BMW pole to set a 1:18.553. By now, both Porsches had softly eased heat into the tyres and a typically committed approach from Earl Bamber gave the Kiwi a 1:18.227, with enough time left in the session and on track to potentially sneak into the 1:17 range for pole.
As BMW brought Sims into the pits, Edwards clocked the first lap under 1:18, setting a first sector time of 30.544 seconds that exactly matched Bamber’s best. The Fords didn’t seem to have anything left to give, a point proven as Briscoe spun over the crest exiting Turn 9 and narrowly avoided hitting the wall.
With just enough time for two flying laps left, Edwards held provisional pole from Tandy and Bamber’s Porsches. A purple second sector wasn’t enough for Tandy to take pole and Bamber wasn’t looking quick either, prompting Sims to come back out for another crack, taking third with a 1:17.932 and ending up less than a tenth away from Edwards’ pole time. Both Porsches decided against a final flyer, Corvette and Ford weren’t improving and as the session ended, pole went the way of local boy John Edwards – his third in IMSA competition and first in the BMW M8 GTE.
If both GT class sessions were defined by the tight gaps, Prototype looked as if it was going to be an Acura benefit. With their name above the race as title sponsors and their two ARX-05s on top of the practice timing screens, the general feeling seemed to be that nobody would get close.
And so it was – despite staying in the pits as the rest of the field took the green flag, both Acuras imposed themselves fairly early on. Dane Cameron’s first quick lap – a 1:13.1 – was over a second quicker than the next best efforts from Barbosa and Curran in the AXR Cadillacs. Cameron went straight into another flyer, setting a purple first sector on his way to a 1:12.232 – well ahead of teammate Castroneves’ 1:13.
After a horrible weekend back at Long Beach, the WEC-Spec P2 cars had a far better run. Robert Alon dragged the JDC-Miller Yellow Submarine (rechristened from the Banana Boat given Friday’s nightmare conditions) to provisional third with a 1:14.1, beating all the Cadillacs and ending up just shy of the front row. ESM were struggling, neither Scott Sharp nor Johannes van Overbeek able to get their Onroak-Nissans into the top ten.
With just over five minutes left, Mid-Ohio newcomer Olly Jarvis came good for Mazda Team Joest, battling with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande for third. The Dutchman’s 1:12.6 wasn’t enough to hold Jarvis back, and the Brit hustled the Mazda around in 1:12.509 to finish behind the Acura pair. Gustavo Yacamán was having a great run too, going sixth in the AFS/PR1 Ligier to be fastest WEC-Spec car and beating both Action Express Racing cars.
Only a second covered the top eight cars with two minutes left, and both Penske Acuras were still taking tenths out of each other in the fight for pole. Renger van der Zande hadn’t given up either, but despite a purple second sector his last-ditch flyer couldn’t beat Jarvis and Bomarito’s Mazdas. Dane Cameron was satisfied with a minute remaining, pulling into the pits; teammate Castroneves was cruising, but managed to pass the start/finish line with enough time for one final attempt at pole.
With the Mazdas locking out Row 2 of the grid and van der Zande leading the Cadillac charge from fifth, this was purely about Acura’s internal fight. The rest of the field had pulled into the pits as Castroneves flew across the finish line once more, setting a 1:11.837 to take pole by just over a tenth from the sister car – Acura Team Penske’s second pole in as many races, with far less of an advantage over the rest of the field than was expected.
“We’re really excited to have the front row,” said Castroneves. “This is an Acura track, and Dane was pushing so hard, it’s been an incredible job from the entire Acura Team Penske. We did half a job – now it’s time to finish it.”
For the full qualifying results, click here.
Tomorrow’s race starts at 12:55 EDT – that’s 09:55 West Coast, 17:55 UK and 02:55 Sydney on Monday morning (sorry guys…) – you can watch it on IMSA.tv or the app if you’re outside the USA, listen live and free from anywhere on IMSA Radio or catch the race a few days later on IMSA’s YouTube page. It’ll be a good one!