Pipo Derani continued an impressive streak of front row starting positions at the historic Sebring International Raceway on Friday.
Derani earned the Motul Pole Award for Saturday’s 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with fast a lap of 1:45.836 around the 3.74-mile Sebring circuit.
Derani’s effort in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing V-Series.R GTP entry was a slight .087-seconds faster than fellow Cadillac driver Sebastien Bourdais’s quick lap in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing car fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.
It marks the third consecutive year the three-time Sebring winner Derani will start the renowned IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race from the front row at Sebring. He also won pole in 2021 and was on the outside pole last year.
Despite the introduction of the GTP cars to Sebring this year, Derani said his Cadillac has been fast all week.
“I think first of all, we’ve been having a fantastic week so far,” Derani said. “Pretty much we rolled out on the track with a very competitive car, so the changes have been pretty small from practice to practice therefore we keep evolving quicker than if we were trying to find bigger lap times.
“(It was) a very competitive qualifying session. I think we came from Daytona a little behind some of our competitors but we’ve been able to work really hard together between Action Express and Ganassi to continue to develop the Cadillac and it’s normally a strong track for Cadillac.”
The eight-car GTP qualifying session – the first in IMSA’s hybrid-powered class history at the historic Sebring track – was cut short by about five minutes after Matt Campbell in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 had a hard impact in the turn 1 wall. Several other cars were on track to post their fast laps in the closing minutes of the session but did not get the chance because of the red flag.
After leading most of the session, Ricky Taylor ended up third fastest in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06, followed by the No. 6 Penske Porsche.
Derani said he was optimistic his lap would have held up should the session have continued, however.
“I was confident with the lap,” Derani said. “I think comparing to WEC (1000 Miles of Sebring race), it’s more or less where we needed to be. Perhaps someone could have gone a little bit quicker, perhaps not, but I knew I extracted what I could from the car at that moment and if someone went quicker, they would have done a good job.”
The season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06 will start fifth, alongside the BMW M Team RLL’s BMW M Hybrid V8.
The No. 7 Porsche Penske car that ended the qualifying session had turned the seventh fastest lap before the incident. The team was still examining the damage after the qualifying session. The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL car will roll off eighth.
Despite the unique challenges that the Sebring circuit presents the new prototypes, there was a lot of optimism and high expectations for the race from teams and drivers.
“I think Daytona we came with a bigger question mark because it was a 24-hour race,” Derani allowed. “Here you are evolving and learning and improving on the car. Sebring is only a 12-hour race but is so demanding on the machine itself because of the nature of the track.
“But it’s always good to be back at Sebring,” Derani said with a smile. “It’s a place that I really enjoy. Being on pole doesn’t mean much for the race, but for us as a team coming from a difficult 2022, it means a lot that we were able to get back on track and show the potential we have as a team.”
Keating Repeats Pole-Winning Effort In LMP2
It doesn’t seem to matter what he’s driving, Ben Keating is fast at Sebring International Raceway. A day after qualifying a Corvette C8.R second in class for the FIA World Endurance Championship race, Keating repeated his WeatherTech Championship pole-winning effort in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) for the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Keating’s best lap of 1 minute, 51.780 seconds (120.450 mph) Friday in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 edged Francois Heriau in the No. 35 TDS Racing ORECA by 0.120 seconds for Motul Pole Award honors. Keating is chasing his third straight LMP2 Sebring victory on Saturday, while co-drivers Paul-Loup Chatin and Alex Quinn are in search of their first Sebring wins.
“At Sebring, the track changes so much, for whatever reason,” Keating said before rushing off to drive in the WEC 1000 Miles of Sebring race. “It’s taken me a lot longer to get comfortable out here (this year). I didn’t expect to do a 51.7 and I didn’t expect to have someone 12-hundredths behind me. It was all really close.
“I had one better lap going and locked up in Turn 10 and went off track,” Keating added. “I was giving it my all, that’s for sure.”
Van Berlo Blows Away Competition In LMP3 Qualifying
Glenn van Berlo made a memorable splash in his debut with Andretti Autosport, wheeling the team’s No. 36 Ligier JS P320 to the pole position in Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) qualifying in record fashion. Van Berlo’s fast lap, 1:55.215 (116.859 mph), toppled the previous LMP3 track record held by Rasmus Lindh by 0.786 seconds and claimed the class Motul Pole Award by a whopping 1.659 seconds.
“The car was really on point during qualifying,” said van Berlo, who made his WeatherTech Championship debut in January at the Rolex 24 At Daytona with the Riley Motorsports LMP3 and has since joined Andretti for the remainder of the 2023 season. “We experimented quite a lot yesterday in terms of finding the right balance, and today it worked out. It shows by the lap time because it’s a lap record, so I’m really happy and pleased with that. But tomorrow is the race, tomorrow the points can be collected.”
Van Berlo, who is teamed with Jarett Andretti and Gabby Chaves in the No. 36 Ligier this weekend, is loving his first visit to Sebring.
“It’s so enjoyable!” the 21-year-old Dutch driver said. “It’s different than every other racetrack, and especially with low fuel in qualifying, it’s mega. I would like to do this 24/7, like quali laps on low fuel. It’s unbelievable.”
Nine cars are entered in the LMP3 class including the 2022 race winner, the No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier. Joao Barbosa and Lance Willsey are back to defend their win in the No. 33, joined this year by rookie Nico Pino.
Post-Qualifying Technical Infraction:
No. 4 LMP3: Car was out of compliance per 3.5.4 of ACO LMP3 base regulations – Any sprung part of the car must be situated more than 50 mm above the reference surface. Penalty: Car will be moved to the back of the class.
Garcia Takes Third Sebring Pole In No. 3 Corvette
Grand Touring class qualifying ended Friday morning with pole position and a GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) track record for four-time Sebring winner Antonio Garcia and a career-first pole in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition for GT Daytona (GTD) fast qualifier Kyle Marcelli.
Just after the guaranteed 10 minutes of green-flag track time were satisfied for the 15-minute session, Klaus Bachler spun the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) into heavy contact with a tire barrier at the exit of turn 1, putting an end to the action. Immediately prior to the red flag, Garcia nailed down his third Sebring pole in the past four years with a lap timed at 1 minute, 59.315 seconds (112.843 mph) in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD that he shares with Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner.
Garcia clipped Daniel Serra’s GTD PRO lap record from last year by 0.999 seconds, though Serra still holds the GT track standard of 1:58.710 set five years ago in the GTD class.
“Yesterday, the car felt very good, I must say,” said Garcia, who has been fastest qualifier 14 times in his IMSA career. “We have a good package, for sure, and I had in the back of my mind that the car was good and we had a chance to go for the pole.
“The Corvette really suits this racetrack, and I love racing here, so let’s get another win,” he added. “It’s a long wait until we start. I wouldn’t mind to race in an hour so we can get it done sooner.”
Garcia’s first Sebring win with Corvette Racing came in 2009, and he added victories in 2015, ’17, and ’22. But he and his teammates have never actually won the Twelve Hours in a year they started from pole position.
“There always has to be a first,” Garcia quipped. “I think we just need to do what we always do here. The pace is there, so we don’t need to go crazy on setup or something. We just need to react to how the track is developing and see how everything goes. We are in a very good starting position.”
Marcelli Scores First WeatherTech Championship Pole In No. 93 Acura
Marcelli, a 33-year-old Canadian, owns seven top-level American sports car race wins and five previous pole positions in the American Le Mans Series, but he had never notched a WeatherTech Championship pole position until Friday morning.
Like Garcia, Marcelli clocked his best effort just before the red flag flew. His 1:59.714 lap (112.467 mph) in the No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura NSX GT3 Evo edged Philip Ellis the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 by 0.12 seconds for GTD honors and was fourth overall among GT qualifiers.
“This is a first, and I’m kind of emotional,” Marcelli said immediately after climbing out of his car. “I don’t know whether it’s the heat or the early morning or what. I’m just super thankful to everyone. This has been a long time coming. The new rules in the series allow any driver to qualify, and that’s kind of been fun and a perk.
“Daytona was close to a podium for us, and I think everybody rallied for this weekend,” he added. “What a fantastic start.”
Post-Qualifying Technical Infractions:
No. 57 GTD: Car failed to meet minimum ride height. Penalty: Car will be moved to the back of the GTD PRO/GTD category.
No. 79 GTD PRO: Car failed to meet minimum ride height. Penalty: Car will be moved to the back of the GTD PRO/GTD category.
The Twelve Hours of Sebring is slated to start at 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday. Peacock and IMSA Radio offer live flag-to-flag coverage. USA Network’s live telecast begins at 4:30 p.m. and runs through the race conclusion.