Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

2019 Petit Le Mans Friday Notebook

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

BRASELTON, Georgia — Qualifying for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans featured some welcome returns to the top of the time sheets with a few surprises thrown into the mix.

Felipe Nasr gave co-driver Pipo Derani an early birthday present by qualifying the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi on  pole position. Nasr set a new lap record for DPi cars with a lap of 1 minute, 8.457 seconds around the 2.54 mile circuit.

Ricky Taylor qualified second in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi, just .141 seconds slower than the Brazilian. Felipe Albuquerque was third in the second of the Action Express Racing Cadillacs.

In GTLM, the Prancing Horse pranced to pole.

In their first race in the WeatherTech Championship since January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Risi Competizione’s No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE went fastest in class with James Calado turning a fastest lap of 1 minute, 15.639 seconds.

Calado won the GTE-Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and was recently announced as a new driver for Jaguar in Formula E. Still, the focus is on getting the best possible result for Giuseppe Risi’s squad.

“We’re here for the final race, it’s a good race, we’ve got an amazing lineup, so there’s been a lot of effort from Ferrari and Risi to make this package happen, and we’re here to win,” said Calado. “I think we’ve got a really good chance of the victory, the car seems to be quite strong. Obviously in IMSA, you never know what can happen, you can go from first to last in a split second so you do need luck on your side in some respects, but I would imagine we’re going to be there and we’ll be fighting for the win and to hopefully get the guys some confidence and willpower to maybe compete the full season next year. That’d be the best thing for them.”

Second fastest was the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Antonio Garcia, but the car was disqualified in post-qualifying inspection for a rear wing infringement. That promoted the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE of Philip Eng to second in class.

The racing gods giveth, the racing gods taketh away in GTD.

After an incident in Thursday’s opening practice session, Paul Miller Racing had to rebuild their No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for the afternoon practice session. Come Friday, Corey Lewis drove that car to a pole position lap of 1 minute, 19.530 seconds in GTD.

Ricky Feller was provisionally on pole in the GTD field but the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3’s lap times were disallowed after the team touched the car during a red flag period. Precision Performance Motorsports’s No. 47 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 also fell victim to the same rule.

The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 qualified second with Ben Keating behind the wheel.

A Moment of Reflection

AIM Vasser Sullivan took over the Lexus RC F GT3 program following Team 3GT’s shuttering at the end of 2018. In their first year of competition, the squad has two wins heading into Saturday’s race and five podiums between both cars, including a runner-up finish at the Rolex 24 in January. In the second half of the year, however, the team has had some setbacks that have halted their championship charge. That hasn’t stopped the team from fighting hard for a good result at the end of the season.

“If we were able to get a (good) result at this race, it would mean a lot to AIM Vasser Sullivan, I think it’d mean a lot to Lexus and we really want to finish this season on a high,” said Jack Hawksworth, whose No. 14 entry won in GTD at both Mid-Ohio and Detroit. “But we also look at this one as one of the iconic American races, and we’d love to be on the top step of the podium if we can. And yeah, looking into next year, if we can finish on a high, finish with a good result, it would certainly be nice to look to next year on the back of a win.”

Team 3GT won two races last year after having debuted in the championship in 2017. AIM Vasser Sullivan have helped elevate the RC F’s results despite the late season setbacks.

“There’s obviously races which slipped away from us, like VIR and stuff like that which perhaps could’ve been another win,” said Hawksworth. “But I tell you what, it’s good to look back sometimes and say ‘Well, we could’ve won that race,’ because at least we were in the ballpark to win, which is important. We’ll certainly look back at the stuff we didn’t do quite as well as we had hoped and make improvements for next year. At leas we were always in the position to compete and that’s testament to the team and the Lexus RC F that we’ve got.”

Random Observations

The GTLM fight is extremely tight with the nine-car field all fighting for class honors. Many are fighting for more than just a win, since the current Corvette and Ford GT entries won’t be racing as factory-supported cars after the checkered flag. However, it is believed that both Ford and Chevrolet would be open to having those cars still race as customer cars.

GTD has a few cars skipping Petit Le Mans due to funding issues or replacement part issues. 12 entries in class isn’t the best look for GTD but one or two new teams from Europe could change all of that.

The Nissan DPi starts its last race with CORE Autosport from 11th on the grid. It is unclear if the Nissan project will continue into 2020.

The director of Ferrari North America was in the Risis Competizione pits during qualifying when the team scored pole position. If the Texas squad can bring home a victory, it could pay dividends for 2020.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.