Tristan Vautier was fastest when it mattered most Saturday at Daytona International Speedway: before the red flag was displayed.
Vautier was the fastest qualifier for Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying race. The results of that 100-minute race determine the starting order for the Rolex 24 At Daytona that opens the 2022 season Jan. 29-30.
Driving the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi V.R, Vautier posted a lap of 1 minute, 34.034 seconds (136.291 mph) before a red flag ended the qualifying session with four minutes remaining.
Vautier could tell by the tone of the voices over the team radio that his lap would hold up.
“I knew it was good and I knew it would be tough to improve,” Vautier said. “The team didn’t tell me how much time was left, but I had a good sense when it went red that there was no way it was going to back to green.”
Vautier knew his lap was probably the best he would squeeze from the car, given traffic and wet conditions that narrowed the racing line. With five minutes remaining in the session, Renger van der Zande went off course and into the tire barrier in the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy Cadillac, eventually forcing the red flag and end to the session. For causing a red flag, van der Zande forfeited his best lap and will start the qualifying race sixth in the DPi field.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 driven by Filipe Albuquerque posted the second-fastest DPi lap (1:34.156), but a post-qualifying technical inspection found the car out of compliance by failing to meet the minimum rear wing assembly angle. The No. 10 will go off from seventh position and last position in the DPi class in the qualifying race.
Saturday’s session determined the starting order of all five classes for Sunday’s 100-minute qualifying race.
“It’s good and important to validate our speed, but it’s very early,” Vautier said. “It’s qualifying for a qualifying race. There’s a lot of work ahead. Although we’re happy, we’re not going to have much time to celebrate.”
While Vautier was winning the pole for the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, one of his teammates was the fast qualifier in another class. Ben Keating, who is also part of the No. 5 JDC-Miller driver lineup in DPi with Vautier, Richard Westbrook and Loic Duval, had the fastest lap in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class driving the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07. Keating will drive stints in both cars during the Rolex 24.
“I went into this qualifying legitimately telling myself that it doesn’t really matter,” Keating said. “We’re qualifying to be able to qualify for a 24-hour race. The only time I’ve won this race, we started dead last.”
Keating, who won the GTD class in the 2015 Rolex 24, recorded a lap of 1:37.296 (131.721 mph) over the 13-turn, 3.56-mile DIS road circuit. He’ll co-drive the No. 52 with Mikkel Jensen, with whom he won the 2021 LMP2 championship, in Sunday’s qualifying race.
In Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), Cameron Shields landed the top starting position with a lap of 1:42.182 (125.423 mph) in the No. 26 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine D08. That topped Nico Pino’s best lap of 1:42.468 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P320.
Shields said the car did well through the Bus Stop, the Turns 11 and 12 chicane that usually creates issues in intermediate weather conditions.
“It was quite difficult to get to the brake point fast there,” Shields said. “That was challenging, but we definitely improved the car a lot through that section. It’s a lot more manageable for us to drive.”
In GTD Pro it was qualifying for a qualifying race, but it felt more like hand-to-hand combat and likely a preview of the intense competition to expect in next week’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Alexandre Imperatori, wheeling the No. 2 KCMG Porsche 911 GT3R, was the fastest qualifier Saturday in the new GTD PRO class and will therefore lead the Grand Touring cars to the green flag in Sunday’s 100-minute qualifying race that sets the starting grid for the 60th anniversary Rolex 24. Meanwhile, Kenny Habul set the pace in GT Daytona (GTD), putting the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 atop that class.
Imperatori topped a field of 13 GTD PRO entries with a run of 1 minute, 46.136 seconds (120.750 mph) over Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course, which was slick in places after sporadic rain showers throughout the day.
“It was very slippery on the cold tires,” Imperatori said. “I was just trying to get some good laps in and get a feel for the car and racetrack. We managed to get top spot. This doesn’t mean much for next week (the Rolex 24), but it’s always good to start on the right foot.”
Battling side-by-side with the factory professionals were 22 GTD cars, which have the same technical specifications as the GTD PRO entries. GTD teams, however, must use a Bronze- or Silver-rated driver in qualifying, while GTD PRO teams can select a driver of any rating. Habul, who has a Bronze rating, was clocked at 1:46.313 (120.549 mph) to emerge fastest in GTD – less than two-tenths of a second off Imperatori’s pace.
“It was wet in places and it was a little dangerous, and I just kept my boot into it and got everything,” Habul said. “It was one of the rare instances I had a good lap, so I’m happy.”
Habul was concerned not only about the moisture on the course but negotiating heavy traffic, with more than 30 cars on the circuit at the same time.
“It was difficult, especially coming out on cold slicks. Even if the track was dry, it would be pretty awful,” the Australian said. “I was nervous as a butcher’s thumb. She was all over the road. It was a battle of survival with people spinning all over the place.”
Mathieu Jaminet produced the second-fastest GTD PRO lap driving the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche, with a time was 1:46.199 (120.679 mph). It put Porsches 1-2 in class qualifying.
Habul’s lap in GTD qualifying was third best among all GT cars. Russell Ward made it a 1-2 Mercedes-AMG effort in GTD, driving the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes to a lap of 1:46.464 (120.378 mph).
The 100-minute qualifying race is scheduled to begin Sunday at 2:05 p.m. ET. Live coverage is available on Peacock and IMSA Radio. Live coverage of the Rolex 24 on NBC begins Jan. 29 at 1:30 p.m.