Tristan Vautier captures pole for Rolex 24 qualifier in treacherous Daytona conditions

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Tristan Vautier won the pole position for the Rolex 24 at Daytona qualifying race during a treacherous Motul 100 qualifying session.

With damp conditions and a persistent Saturday afternoon drizzle narrowing the racing line on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course, Vautier turned a lap of 1 minute, 34.034 seconds early in the session for prototype cars.

That put the JDC-Miller MotorSports No. 5 Cadillac on the pole position for Sunday’s Motul 100 (2:05 p.m., streaming on Peacock) that will set the starting lineup for the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

MOTUL 100 QUALIFYING: Full results l Results by class l Sector times l Fastest lap sequence l Fastest lap by driver

HOW AND WHEN TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, more

Filipe Albuquerque qualified second in Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Acura, followed by Alex Lynn in the No. 02 Cadillac of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Vautier said his team decided to scoot past nine slower LMP2 cars to post a fast lap as quickly as possible because of the hazardous conditions.

“The track was actually really dry on the line, it was just a few curbs and white lines that were still damp,” he said. “You couldn’t be off line at all, and the wind made it very tricky as well.

“We discussed holding back or trying to pass (the LMP2 cars) as quickly as possible. I said, ‘OK, if I pass the nine of them fast enough, by the time I’m clear, it should be when tires are good.’ That’s what happened. There was quite a lot of traffic with 15 cars, and there was a chance for a red flag, which actually happened.”

With just more than 5 minutes remaining, Renger van der Zande stuffed his No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac into an infield tire barrier. The accident brought out a red flag that effectively ended the session and nullified the two-time Rolex 24 overall winner’s fastest lap, which would have ranked second to Vautier.

“I got stuck in a wall basically in Turn 5,” said van der Zande, who instead will start 10th Sunday after his Chip Ganassi Racing teams repairs the left-front damage to his car. ” Turn 1, 2 and 3 was really good, but I braked too late for Turn 5. Overall, the car felt really nice. I don’t think it’s drama, but it is a bit of drama.”

The hourlong qualifying session was full of drama across all five classes as drivers attempted to navigate a blustery and rainy day.

“I fully expected a red flag, which means you’ve got to get a fast lap in early,” said LMP2 pole-winner Ben Keating, who also will be teamed with Vautier for Sunday’s Rolex 24 as he moves between teams in the top two prototype divisions.”

Kenny Habul won the pole position in GTD, a class that requires amateur drivers qualify the car.

“I absolutely drove my nuts off,” Habul said. “It was wet in places, a little dangerous, and I just kept my boot into it and gave it everything and was one of the rare instances I had a good lap. So I’m happy.”

Even more impressive was that the Bronze-rated amateur driver bested 11 drivers in the GTD Pro division, including NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindrdic, who lost control of his Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Bus Stop chicane.

Cindric will start from the rear Sunday after being one of seven drivers unable to record an official time.

With 61 cars in the 2022 Rolex 24 (the largest field since 2014), traffic management made the inclement weather even more challenging, and Habul speculated that it resulted in lots of conservative driving.

“It was difficult, especially coming out on cold slicks, even if the track was dry, that’s pretty awful,” Habul said. “I was nervous as a butcher’s thumb. She was all over the road. You couldn’t touch the gas. It was pretty wet those first few turns. It was really about survival, and people spinning all over the place in front of me and everywhere.

“To be quite frank with you, there’s no way all those pros behind me were going. There’s no way on God’s Earth that they were giving it everything, because I woudn’t be there. That was clear. You’ve got some of the real superstars of the GT world that are a second off my time. There’s just no way. But nonetheless, it was a good lap, which is unusual for me.”

It also was a solid effort by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who will start fifth for the consecutive year in the Motul 100 after turning a lap of 1:34.941 in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac.

“The damp, cold conditions are kind of tough with these light cars,” said Johnson, who will be sharing the car in Sunday’s race with Kamui Kobayashi. “As much as I was nervous about it, I was happy to get some experience doing it. I ended up running my fastest lap I’ve ever run around here. I am happy to see my progression. Happy that the team keeps giving me these opportunities to learn. We will go for more tomorrow.”

Everyone is expected to be giving it their all after last year’s inaugural Rolex 24 qualifying race triggered allegations from the race winners of sandbagging by their opponents.

The build-up to the season opener of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship often is rife with accusations of teams underplaying lap times to avoid being hindered by rules tweaks under series officials’ “Balance of Performance” policy (which might be less of a factor with DPi being replaced next year by the new LMDh category).

“IMSA has a good handle on BoP in the last year of the DPi,” Vautier said. “I don’t think there’s many games going on.”

For the 2012 Indy Lights champion, whose underdog team won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year, the pole was a good indicator of improvement.

“It’s important to validate speed, but it’s very early and qualifying for a qualifying race,” he said. “There’s not much time to celebrate. There’s another practice very soon.”

Cameron Shields (LMP3) and Alexandre Imperatori (GTD Pro) also qualified as class pole-sitters for Sunday’s 100-minute race.

Tristan Vautier captures pole for Rolex 24 qualifier in treacherous Daytona conditions originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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