ESM beat both Penskes in qualifying; Sellers and Paul Miller Racing set new GTD record
Initially, this looked like an easy call. Jordan Taylor has had more success at Detroit Belle Isle than any other current IMSA driver, coming to this year’s race with five wins already under his belt. As if that wasn’t enough, his 2018 teammate Renger van der Zande has two victories from his days in Prototype Challenge. Surely WTR and the all-conquering Cadillac would ride trick dampers, torque and driving supremacy to pole, right?
No. Come qualifying, the short session was made even shorter by a cleanup following the previous Trans-Am session, giving the Prototype drivers just 12 minutes to go out, max it and hope for the best. The track was getting faster and faster as more rubber created the groove, but Castroneves went early and hard in the #7 Acura to set a 1:23.275. The Brazilian – fresh from his dramatic one-off at last weekend’s Indy 500 – was followed for most of the session by teammate Montoya, Penske’s setups clearly paying off on a relatively green track.
With just over five minutes remaining, Robert Alon in the #85 JDC-Miller Banana Boat hit the Turn 4 wall, bringing out a red flag. The session restarted with a few minutes added to meet IMSA’s minimum 10 minutes of track time available, and everyone was pushing to get one final flyer in.
Sebring winner Derani threw the #22 Tequila Patrón ESM DPi around Belle Isle’s 2.3 miles in 1:22.273 on his last lap to claim pole by a considerable 0.719s from Penske man Montoya, who pipped early favourite Castroneves by 0.283s.
“You know, that shows that we’ve been working really hard,” said Derani, who scored his second career WeatherTech Championship pole. “The level of IMSA has been incredibly high and to be able to put it on pole here against well-known teams, it’s very rewarding.”
On a weekend where IMSA races in GM’s back yard, the first Cadillac was the #5 Mustang Sampling AXR car qualified by Barbosa – not where this year’s Rolex champions like being, but they’ll take heart from being only 0.003s from Castroneves’ Acura Team Penske DPi.
The DPi-vs-LMP2 battle over BoP dominated the run up to races this year, especially where the WEC-Spec LMP2 homologated suspension was thought to suffer on US street circuits. IMSA’s technical team need only to point out Misha Goikhberg’s startling fifth place effort to end that here – the ‘amateur’ in the #99 Red Dragon going only a tenth slower than multiple series champion Barbosa in the all-conquering Cadillac.
Spirit of Daytona return to the paddock after a monster crash for Vautier late in the race at Sebring threw a major spanner in their 2018 equipment and commercial plans. The Frenchman’s teammate Matt McMurry took 11th for the Florida team in their comeback qualifying, just behind polesitter Derani’s teammate Scott Sharp.
Some people describe the relationship between IMSA and the ACO as like that of separated parents. Come Detroit, the GTLM field are off at daddy’s for the weekend, getting their eye in at the Le Mans Test Day. With the spotlight on them this weekend, there are a few changes in GTD for Detroit too.
Kenny Habul’s apparent aim to get through every single Mercedes factory driver has landed the Australian with Bernd Schneider this weekend. Last year’s winners MSR are back with both Acura NSX GT3s, Kat Legge assisted by endurance co-driver Mario Farnbacher for Belle Isle. Turner Motorsport keep Bill Auberlen onboard – still after Scott Pruett’s record (and hi to his family at home) – but their Twitter favourite Crotch Belt gets to work on Robby Foley this weekend, the youngster’s impressive work for the team at the Rolex seeing him back into their rent-a-ride seat. Foley’s certainly talented, and time sharing a car with BMW hero Auberlen could quietly show up a few other entries. Defending GTD champion Alessandro Balzan is also out, replaced this weekend in Cooper MacNeil’s #63 WeatherTech Scuderia Corsa Ferrari by Jeff Segal.
GTD championship leader Bryan Sellers led a tight session, hustling the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini around to claim the team’s third pole in four years at Detroit. With Madison Snow’s strong early pace and a new setup direction, the PMR crew are out for blood.
“When we finished the second session, we thought there was no way we would even be close to this but getting in clear air is a huge advantage here,” Sellers said. “I got it all put together – how I wanted, when I wanted – and the crew did a great job on the car. We struggled in the second session with balance, but the temperatures came down and I think it all came into our hand a little bit.”
Last year’s winner Katherine Legge was half a second back in the first MSR Acura, beating teammate Justin Marks. The 3GT Lexus pair were next, looking good but not as dominant as at Mid-Ohio where the program’s first victory was finally achieved.
Ben Keating’s Riley-AMG Mercedes was 0.082s behind the second Lexus and just 0.086 ahead of MacNeil in the WeatherTech Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Mike Schein was half a second further back – eighth the best of the Wright Porsches with Christina Nielsen struggling in tenth.
With the championships in both classes still wide open and Detroit traditionally turning out surprise results, expect IMSA to deliver 100 minutes of top-class racing before the summer break for Le Mans. Whatever happens on track, the race to the airport will be just as intense for some of the field as they red-eye it to France for Sunday’s test.