RPW Column: Ricky Taylor Repeats Overall IMSA Pole At Watkins Glen; Keating Rebounds In LMP2

Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – WATKINS GLEN, NY – Qualifying for Friday night’s IMSA WeatherTech 240 saw similar faces in different places but familiar names in the same area.

As qualifying started under wet conditions, the groove began to slowly dry. When the racing line was dehydrated, drivers were on slick tires and beginning to run, similar to last week.

In DPi qualifying, Ricky Taylor doubled down in qualifying this week in Watkins Glen to score his second pole of the week for the Wayne Taylor Acura and 23rd career pole with a 1:30.058, faster by over three tenths to Olivier Pla and the Meyer Shank Acura.

Taylor was critically looking at the previous sessions and how the track would dry up before the DPi session, which was the final track session.

“I’d like to say it was carefully planned. The goal watching the other sessions, it seems like the track was improving and improving since it was drying out. But we were some of the luckiest ones of all the classes to be on a quite-dry track. I think everybody decided to do the whole session just to be sure they got a good lap in, in case there was a yellow or anything.”

With the rain drying up on the apexes, Taylor told RPW he didn’t really know if there was a place on the track where he had to be more precise.

“It was an unknown right now. I think the delta between last week and this week was about 10 mph of a head of wind into the bus stop. That changes our car a lot. That headwind is a fast headwind. Last week, the track conditions were a little fast, but temperature-wise, this week was a little bit faster. So I think those two kind of cancelled each other out.”

With three minutes to go, the top three were separated by two tenths on the track. Could it be competitive tomorrow night? Taylor thinks so, and that clean air when he takes the green is indeed what he wants.

“I keep saying it, but the beauty of coming back a week later is you could work on the cars, but the rain is just going to mess all of that up. I think we had a nice plan organized mid-week of what we wanted to change. Right after the race, we had a great debrief and really knew our plan. Now the rain comes, and all those changes aren’t wet weather changes. Although we don’t necessarily set the car up for the wet in endurance racing. It’s just a balance of do you want to risk a wet car on a dry track, which isn’t so bad. It’ll be interesting to see if people take those different approaches. We saw many times at Daytona how strong the Cadillacs can be in the wet. I think we’ve improved. This morning we showed a pretty good pace in the Acura in the wets. Another big factor, with the speeds here and all the long straights and being in a prototype that pulls a lot of water off the racetrack, is that visibility will be a premium. So, starting up, I wouldn’t trade that for anything at the moment.”

LMP2: Keating Plays UNO Reverse Card on Thomas’ Hopes

Last week, Steven Thomas stole pole position from Ben Keating on the final lap of LMP2 qualifying for the Six Hours. The gap? 18 thousandths of a second.

This week? Roles reversed with a more significant margin.

This time, Thomas had the pole in the final minute with a 1:35.392. After the checkered flew, Keating finished a monstrous last lap with a 1:34.969 to give Keating his 3rd IMSA pole.

Car Guy Keating, as his nickname on Twitter, wanted that pole badly.

“I’ve been thinking about that all week. And we get here, and I’m all excited about trying this new stuff as we get into our practice session. It was completely wet and of no value. We completely changed the setup on our car, and we’re rolling the dice going into today’s practice session. I felt really good. I watched all the GTD cars and LMP3s deciding on which tires to choose. We went out on slicks, and I was pushing really hard.”

Keating was concerned about going through the bus stop and in the final sector. On his last lap, he was informed while in the esses that Thomas got him. Keating felt like he pulled a Hail Mary.

“I’m already 2-tenths behind my best lap. I feel like I pulled off heroic sectors for the last 2 sectors. I threw it into the bus stop faster than I’ve ever driven through there. I went flat around the carousel. I went flat through the last two turns, which means I didn’t lift off the throttle. I could not believe that I pulled it off. I finished the lap just over six-tenths of a second faster. So somewhere in that lap, in the last 2 sectors, I made up 8 tenths which is unbelievable.”

LMP3: Llarena scores his first IMSA pole for Performance Tech

Mateo Llarena recorded his first-ever IWSC pole by nearly ¾ of a second over Jonathan Bennett, capturing it with about four minutes to go.

“Yes, it was quite good. We didn’t expect to get it because we were struggling since today with the changing conditions. So we really didn’t know where we would start. So I pushed all the way. The car was great, and I managed to get a very good lap,” Llarena said.

The only red flag of qualifying occurred in this session when Theodor Olsen, in a Transformers-based livery, spun. Because he caused the red flag, he was penalized for losing his two fastest laps, relegating him to 5th of six positions.

GTLM: Corvette Front Row Lockout, Again

In a session that saw many drivers choose slicks as the racing surface was starting to improve, the Corvettes of Jordan Taylor and Nick Tandy took their respective #3 and #4 C8.Rs to the GT front row with a 1:43.821 and a 1:44.045, respectively.

This is Jordan’s 15th pole in IMSA competition.

“It was great. We are all glued to the TVs watching Madison’s qualifying and deciding on whether we should go wets or drys. We knew he was on wets, and a couple of guys were on drys, and they were way off for most of it. They bridged the gap on the last lap but not enough to get him. We thought, well, maybe if they had a couple more laps, slicks would have been the way to go. We committed to it. The first couple of laps were a bit sketchy. As soon as you built a little temp into them, the grip level was kind of high, other than nine, ten, and eleven. You kind of needed a nice rhythm to keep building temp and finding brake points and how much speed you can carry,” Jordan Taylor said.

How did it look from the cockpit in terms of the damp and dry surfaces? Taylor told RPW, “there were definitely wet spots in some of the short chutes between corners. Nine was slick. Ten was still a little bit slick. Everywhere else, it looked damp, but you just had to commit and trust the grip was there. It was more of a mental game than anything. But yeah, there was a very narrow line. But there were a couple laps I got about six inches to a foot wide in some spots. And you just lose the complete front end of the car. You definitely have to be precise, but I think by the end I think everyone knew where the grip was and where you could carry speed.”

GTD: Lambos Got Surprising Speed

When qualifying began late Friday afternoon, the track was damp, giving teams Michelin rain tires to start with the option to switch to slicks later on. Back and forth, this was a battle between the #1 Paul Miller Lamborghini driven by Madison Snow and the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus driven by Frankie Montecalvo. Snow pulled off a last-lap come back to be the first driver under two minutes in GTD with a 1:59.380, just under a second faster to Montecalvo.

The big question was, did Snow go with dry or wets?

“We talked over to pit lane, stuck our heads out, and looked at the front straight. We couldn’t really decide, so we ended up going wets. I guess a couple of the cars had drys out there. For our car, wets was the proper tire choice for that session. Clearly, the next session, everybody was out there on drys, so it was a bit funny of a decisive call. The team made the right choice, and it worked out for us,” Snow said.

It was also a strategy session to heat your tires up on a fast lap or cool them down by taking them easy. Snow explained to RPW.

“The first couple laps, I got a lot of heat in them and got a decent time, but then it took me two laps to cool off the tires because I had too much to keep pushing. So then it was the last lap that I was able to build more heat in them on the last lap because they heated up real quick with the almost-dry conditions out there.”

In the new GTD qualifying format, for the second straight week, Jack Hawksworth put the #14 Lexus to the top of the points qualifying charts with a 1:46.988. This is again critical in the weekend as the team enters the Sprint Cup Championship 7th in team standings.

The green flag flies at Watkins Glen International at 6:10pm on NBCSN.

STARTING LINEUP

DPi
10 Acura Ricky Taylor, 2. 60 Acura Olivier Pla, 3. 01 Cadillac Kevin Magnussen, 4. 31 Cadillac Pipo Derani, 5. 55 Mazda Harry Tincknell, 6. 5 Cadillac Loic Duval

LMP2
52 PR1 Ben Keating, 2. 11 WIN Steven Thomas, 3. 8 Tower John Farano

LMP3
38 Performance Tech Mateo Llarena, 2. 54 Core Jonathan Bennett, 3. 36 Andretti Jarett Andretti, 4. 74 Riley Gar Robinson, 5. 84 Dawson Theodor Olsen, 6. 91 Riley Jim Cox

GTLM
3 Corvette Jordan Taylor, 2. 4 Corvette Nick Tandy, 3. 79 Porsche Cooper MacNeil

GTD
1 Lamborghini Madison Snow, 2. 12 Lexus Frankie Montecalvo, 3. 39 Audi Richard Heistand, 4. 66 Acura Till Bechtolsheimer, 5. 76 Acura Jeff Kingsley, 6. 23 Aston Martin Roman De Angelis, 7. 28 Mercedes Michael de Quesada, 8. 14 Lexus Aaron Telitz, 9. 96 BMW Robby Foley, 10. 88 Porsche Rob Ferriol, 11. 32 Mercedes Shane Lewis, 12. 19 Lamborghini Misha Goikhberg/Franck Perera

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