January 21, 2024

By John Oreovicz, IMSA Wire Service, Image: Pipo Derani 

Qualifying Results

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – New track records are not a frequent occurrence at Daytona International Speedway.

But perfect, cool conditions, combined with a year’s worth of development on the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) cars that comprise the top class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, created a festival of speed Sunday in qualifying for the 62nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Defending GTP class champion Pipo Derani smashed the five-year-old benchmark for the 3.56-mile Daytona road course en route to the Motul Pole Award, lapping the famous facility in 1 minute, 32.656 seconds (138.318 mph) in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. That edged the similar Cadillac Racing entry prepared by Chip Ganassi Racing and driven by Sebastien Bourdais by 0.071 seconds.

Derani, who also claimed the 2021 IMSA Daytona Prototype International (DPi) championship and owns a prior overall victory in the Rolex 24 (2016), was more than a second under the existing track record of 1:33.685 established by Oliver Jarvis in a Mazda DPi in 2019. Prior to that, one must go all the way back to 1993 to find a faster trip around DIS, when PJ Jones set what would be an enduring target near the end of IMSA’s original GTP era in the All American Racers Toyota Eagle Mk III.

All nine GTP cars that participated in Sunday’s qualifying session lapped faster than Jarvis’ previous track record.

“Obviously, the Cadillac was flying out there today,” Derani said after earning his 10th career pole position in IMSA competition. “It was just a privilege and a pleasure to drive such a car – really well balanced. There was great teamwork to improve what was needed for qualifying. The car felt on rails, and it was nice to enjoy and feel the full potential of GTP.

“In the end, everyone was really tight,” he added. “I think Porsche was within a tenth from pole (actually 0.22 seconds). It’s about finding those details to find a little extra time, and we were able to do just that today.”

Derani credited the atmospheric conditions – cloud cover, with temperatures in the mid-50s and a 17-mph tailwind through Daytona’s famous trioval – with creating lap times that were even faster than expected.

“We weren’t really talking about what was possible, we were just trying to maximize the tools that we had,” said Derani. “Quite honestly, I was quite surprised, but I think the conditions were perfect for that – cold, the tires were working well, and obviously for qualifying you’re running low fuel. I would say we were a bit more surprised than not by the lap time.”

Felipe Nasr qualified the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 third at 1:32.876, joined on the second row by Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8. The Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acuras locked out Row 3.

The No. 5 Proton Competition Porsche didn’t participate in qualifying after the car slid off track and into a barrier with Neel Jani at the wheel during a pre-qualifying practice session.

LMP2: Keating is Still King

The busiest man at Daytona International Speedway secured the best starting spot in the 13-car Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) field for the Rolex 24. Ben Keating, driving the No. 2 United Autosports USA ORECA LMP2 07, earned the class Motul Pole Award by producing a 1:38.501 effort (130.110 mph) a little less than halfway into the 15-minute LMP2 qualifying session.

Keating, the 2021 and ’23 IMSA LMP2 class champion, is also part of the driver lineup in the Rolex 24 for JDC-Miller Motorsports’ No. 85 Porsche 963 in the GTP class. He noted that his track time the complex GTP Porsche benefited him when he stepped back into the more familiar LMP2 car, and credited Sunday’s track conditions with helping produce a lap a half a second quicker than he was anticipating based on his qualifying simulations.

“The track was unbelievably fast today, almost perfect conditions,” Keating observed. “I was shocked; I couldn’t believe how quick it was. When I did that lap, I didn’t expect anybody to be close and I thought we might as well pull over. But Nick Boulle was just a tenth of a second behind me. That speaks to the high level of competition in LMP2 this year.”

Boulle’s best effort was 1:38.603 in the No. 52 Inter Europol by PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA, followed by George Kurtz (No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA).

“As I look across the 2024 LMP2 field, two-thirds of the cars are really strong,” Keating said. “It’s going to be an epic year, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The 62nd Rolex 24 takes place Jan. 27-28. NBC television coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, with the network also carrying the finish beginning at noon Sunday, Jan. 28. Flag-to-flag coverage will stream live on Peacock, with additional television coverage airing on USA Network.