The number 7 Penske-Porsche with Felipe Nasr onboard narrowly missed out on nabbing the 963 program’s first pole position on Sunday during IMSA’s Roar Before the 24 event, which featured Rolex 24 qualifying. Acura’s Tom Blomqvist put in a stunning closing lap to pip Nasr to pole by just eight hundredths of a second when the checkered flag fell; Blomqvist on a 1:34.03 compared to Nasr’s 1:34.11. The twenty-minute qualifying session was marked by the #6 Penske-Porsche slamming into the wall under braking at the busstop chicane on the back stretch of the circuit, bringing the session to a halt. Nick Tandy, in the process of crashing the car, still managed to set a time quick enough for sixth on the grid ahead of one Cadillac and both BMWs. Thankfully Tandy is fine and the team has nearly a week to repair the car and return it to fighting fit before the 24-hour event next Saturday.
Regardless of Porsche’s times, the new GTP class grid is extremely close with the slowest of the BMWs still just eight tenths of a second off the polesitter. Whatever IMSA has done to set the parity of these four manufacturers, it has worked. This is a very tight field of nine cars, and will hopefully lead to an extremely close and tight battle across the 24 hour race. Here’s hoping that all of these cars are as reliable as needed to make it a direct fight for the twice-around-the-clock classic. And here’s hoping that Porsche has enough spares left in the hopper to cover any damage that might happen across the race. Or at least keep their noses clean enough during the race to not need any spares anyway!
While they aren’t racing Porsches for the 24 Hour—because their Porsches aren’t built yet—both of Porsche’s 963 customer teams have entered the 24 Hour in other classes. The Proton Competition team has entered an Oreca 07 in the LMP2 class, having qualified ninth in the ten-car class with American Fred Poordad at the wheel. JDC Miller Motorsport is running a Duqueine M30-D08 in the LMP3 class, and driver Luca Mars qualified fifth of the nine car class. Unfortunately Mars had a spin at the chicane and flat spotted all of his tires. Being that the car has to start on the tires it qualified on, they’re looking at a rough first stint with the car.
Down in the GTD and GTD Pro classes, the qualifying Porsches didn’t fare all that well with the new 992-generation 911 GT3 R making its debut. The #16 car of Wright Motorsports saw Jan Heylen put in a best time of 1:48.94, nearly three seconds off the GTD class polesitting Mercedes-AMG GT3, good enough only for 14th in class. In the GTD Pro class, Porsche ace Laurens Vanthoor managed to turn an even slower lap at 1:28.977, setting the eighth best time in the class of nine cars. Porsche doesn’t typically win GT3-class events on outright speed, preferring to run on consistency and reliability, but it’s still disconcerting to see the crested brand from Stuttgart so far behind the 8-ball at the start of the race. Thankfully the event is 24 straight hours of running and qualifying means very little to the actual victory. Here’s hoping Porsche can mount a solid 24-hour race and come home with the victory one week from today.