By John Oreovicz
BRASELTON, Ga. - Track records fell by the wayside Friday in the Grand Touring classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the 23rd annual Motul Petit Le Mans.
Antonio Garcia continued Corvette Racing’s run of recent success, guiding the No. 3 Corvette C8.R around Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta’s 12-turn, 2.54-mile layout in 1 minute, 15.163 seconds (121.655 mph) to claim the GT Le Mans (GTLM) pole. That was nearly three-tenths of a second quicker than Connor De Phillippi, who qualified second in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE. Garcia’s lap was 0.476 seconds better than the previous GTLM qualifying standard set last year by James Calado.
Meanwhile, Shinya Michimi powered the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 around the undulating road course in 1:19.291 (115.321 mph) to lead the GT Daytona (GTD) field and reel in his first career Motul Pole Award. The depth of the GTD field was represented by a different manufacturer qualifying in each of the top five spots, with the first eight cars separated by less than a half-second.
Nearly perfect atmospheric and track conditions produced a remarkable jump in speed this week from years – or even months – past.
Nick Tandy extracted a quick lap of 1:15.858 from the No. 911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR-19, some 0.3 seconds faster than he managed when he took pole position for the TireRack.com Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway six weeks ago. This weekend, that time was only good enough for sixth in the GTLM class.
John Edwards qualified the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry third, followed by Laurens Vanthoor (No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR-19) and Tommy Milner (No. 4 Corvette Racing C8.R).
It was the third consecutive GTLM pole for the No. 3 Corvette, following top qualifying efforts from Jordan Taylor at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Championship leaders Taylor and Garcia are looking for their third consecutive GTLM race win and sixth overall in 2020.
For Garcia, it was his sixth pole in IMSA competition and first at Michelin Raceway. He set his best time with under three minutes remaining in the 15-minute qualifying session.
"Great job by the Corvette Racing crew, and I’m happy to get the pole," said the 40-year old Spaniard, seeking his first Motul Petit Le Mans victory. "My first two qualifying laps were already very, very good, and I didn’t think I left anything on the table. On the cool-down lap, somebody told me on the radio that I lost pole position by a few hundredths of a second (to De Phillippi). Obviously, I had to go for it again and I put together a perfect lap.
"I really wanted this pole because I’ve lost many poles here by hundredths or even thousandths of a second," Garcia added. "I have to look at the record books, but I think this is my first pole at Road Atlanta. Hopefully it leads to my first win here, because I’ve been waiting for a very, very long time."
Michimi and teammates Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry won the six-hour GTD race at Michelin Raceway on Sept. 5, and the Meyer Shank team’s return to the popular Georgia venue is off to a successful start. Michimi edged by 0.239 seconds the GTD track qualifying record set last year by Corey Lewis.
Jeff Westphal qualified the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 second for Scuderia Corsa, while recently married Frankie Montecalvo, the GTD pole winner last month at Michelin Raceway, was third in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. Lamborghini and BMW also placed cars in the top five.
"Everyone at the team is really happy about this, and I have to thank everyone at Meyer Shank Racing," said Michimi, a 27-year old Japanese American who was born in Cincinnati and lives in Tokyo. "But at the end of the day, it’s only half the battle. We’ve got a long 10 hours tomorrow, and I think it’s going to be a tricky one.
"We were able to get a win last month here, but unfortunately the guys had some really bad luck in the races in between," Michimi added, referring to fifth- and seventh-place results at Mid-Ohio and Charlotte. "We were all really hoping to bounce off of that success from last month and go in here on a really positive note. We started off correctly, so hopefully we can continue that tomorrow."
The 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans will be green-flagged at 12:40 p.m. ET Saturday. NBCSN will broadcast the action live from 12:30-6:30 p.m. and 9:30-11 p.m., with continuous coverage available on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports App and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.