By Jeff Olson
Ricky Taylor slipped past Acura Team Penske teammate Dane Cameron late in Saturday’s qualifying session to lead a Penske sweep of the front row for Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America.
Taylor’s lap of 1 minute, 49.061 seconds (133.620 mph) in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi was just 0.318 seconds faster than Cameron’s fastest lap in the team’s No. 6 Acura around the 14-turn, 4.048-mile circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. But it was fast enough to give him the Motul Pole Award.
Taylor and Helio Castroneves will share the driving duties for Sunday’s 2-hour, 40-minute race. Cameron shares the team’s No. 6 car with Juan Pablo Montoya.
Taylor credited Cameron for showing him the line and pressing him to improve.
"Dane kind of showed me how it’s done," Taylor said. "I tried to apply what I learned from him. That’s the power of having good teammates and a great team. There’s no reason to be behind when somebody is always pushing you and helping you to run faster."
It was the second pole position this season for the No. 7 team – Castroneves took pole for last month’s IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona – and was the 20th IMSA pole for Taylor, who last claimed a Motul Pole Award last September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. After a difficult start to the season for the No. 7 squad – which hasn’t finished better than seventh in the first three races of 2020 – the pole was a welcome relief.
"We’ve had a tough season this year with little things going on here and there," Taylor said. "Even though it’s not a race win, it’s really nice to keep all the guys motivated. I’m excited to go out tomorrow. We’ve shown great pace all weekend. To convert it to a race win would be really, really amazing."
The two Mazda Motorsports entries will start on the second row. Harry Tincknell, who shares the team’s No. 55 Mazda DPi with Jonathan Bomarito, secured the third starting position at 1:49.607 (132.954 mph). Tristan Nunez, who shares the team’s No. 77 entry with Oliver Jarvis, locked down the fourth position with a lap of 1:50.120 (132.335 mph).
For Taylor, Road America provides a difficult challenge through traffic.
"Road America is always difficult," he said. "There are a lot of places where you can create gaps and lose lots of time in traffic. … It’s really an interesting track, one where you can lose lots of ground and momentum.
"It’s going to be a handful. It’s going to really demand a lot of the teams and the drivers to put together a perfect race. I think for us in the (No.) 7 car, we are just trying to get through the race unscathed without any issues and let the pace hopefully dictate our outcome. And we’ve had a lot of pace so we’re happy with that."
NBC’s live coverage of the race begins at noon ET Sunday. The race is timed for two hours, 45 minutes, with the green flag expected at 12:05 p.m.
Kelly Scores Back-to-Back Motul Pole Awards in LMP2
Patrick Kelly only wanted to be consistent during his qualifying laps. And consistent he was.
Kelly won the Motul Pole Award in the LMP2 class Saturday with a fast lap of 1:54.472 (127.301 mph) in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 around the 14-turn, 4.048-mile Road America layout.
Kelly, who is sharing the car with Simon Trummer, will start ninth overall and first among the LMP2 drivers for Sunday’s main event of the IMSA SportsCar Weekend at Road America.
Afterward, Kelly credited consistency for his pole-winning performance.
"You know what it was? It was consistent," he said. "It was hitting your marks and keeping everything clean, I think, more than anything. I didn’t think traffic would be such an issue as it is here with the other cars, with both the DPi and the GT cars."
Kelly’s lap topped Henrik Hedman’s best lap of 1:55.427 (126.250 mph) in the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA LMP2 07.
Kelly, a native of Minnetrista, Minnesota, reiterated his appreciation and respect for a track he calls home.
"It’s a little scary in some spots," he said. "… Man, oh man, does it get your attention. Boy, it didn’t disappoint for today and the event. I love this event and track so much. And I love being here as a fan as much as I love being a driver."
Kelly admitted that he’d been struggling during practice sessions Friday and earlier Saturday but put it together in the qualifying session.
"I know the things I have to do…. Just put a lap together that’s clean and then push for another one, and that’s what I did and it was enough to put it on the pole."