SEBRING, Fla. – Jan Heylen made the decision look brilliant for him to qualify the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R on Friday at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
The Belgian rewarded the choice by winning the Motul Pole Award in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona (GTD) class but admitted afterward it wasn’t the result of any tense brainstorming sessions in the Wright Motorsports camp.
Regardless, Heylen will lead the 13-car GTD contingent to the green flag Saturday as he and teammates Patrick Long and Ryan Hardwick vie for the race win and season championship. Heylen put the No. 16 atop the GTD qualifying chart with a lap of 2 minutes, 0.844 seconds (111.416 mph) that was seven-tenths of a second clear of the field.
Hardwick is normally the qualifying driver for the No. 16, but he volunteered for Heylen – who joins the team for the endurance events – to handle the chore this week. Heylen rewarded the move by posting the pole-winning time on his lone flying lap.
"After Laguna (two weeks ago), Ryan was set on me qualifying the car, and we stuck to that," Heylen said. "I wish there was more strategy behind it, but it was more about Ryan being excited about me qualifying the car, and that’s what we did.
"My tires were ready to go when we decided it was time to go, which was always going to be on our second time by after two warmup laps. The tires came in at the perfect time, so it all worked out."
The No. 16 Porsche trails the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 by seven points going into Saturday’s 12-hour season finale on the historic and demanding 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring circuit. Long and Hardwick are also seven driver points behind Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry, who share the No. 86 this weekend with Shinya Michimi and will start eighth.
Heylen likes the way his car has handled this weekend, raising hopes of a come-from-behind effort for the GTD title from the single-car effort in its first full WeatherTech Championship season.
"It took a lot of hard work from the whole team to get here at the end of the year fighting for the championship," Heylen said. "The car has felt good all weekend long. At least from the time I spent in the car, I believe it’s the best car we’ve gotten this season. That’s very encouraging for the race tomorrow. Obviously, pole position is the best way to get the weekend started, but all the big work is yet to do tomorrow."
Garcia Earns GT Le Mans Pole with Track-Record Lap
The magical season for the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R continued Friday, with Antonio Garcia breaking the GT Le Mans (GTLM) qualifying lap record at Sebring that co-driver Jordan Taylor set in July. Garcia circled the course in 1:55.456 (116.615 mph) to capture the GTLM pole for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, besting Taylor’s previous standard by 0.178 seconds.
It marked the fifth consecutive pole position this season for the No. 3, which has also won five races and already clinched the GTLM driver and team championships.
Garcia termed his first pole-winning effort at Sebring "like a perfect lap," adding that the team used Taylor’s previous record in July as a standard for this weekend.
"Obviously, Jordan had a pretty similar qualifying lap here in July," Garcia explained. "Yesterday, I could actually compare our laps (in practice) to that lap, even if it was almost three seconds faster than the best we did yesterday. It seemed impressive, but at least I had a target to know what the car was capable of.
"I think this is the fastest I’ve been around here at Sebring. It was a pretty cool lap and zero mistakes. I think I just nailed the peak of the grip, peak of the tires. Happy with that."
Connor De Phillippi was second quick in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE at 1:56.116 (115.952 mph), with teammate Jesse Krohn third in the No. 24 BMW (1:56.316). With the championship decided, Garcia expects plenty of competition for the race win from all the manufacturers.
"I’m expecting a lot of close fights tomorrow with either BMW or Porsche, but for sure we are starting at the best place there," he said. "Let’s see what tomorrow brings; it’s going to be a long one. … And a classic one, where we finish at night and we really need to adapt to that. Let’s see what the new Sebring date brings for us. It’s going to be challenging, for sure."
Following a 20-minute warmup at 8 a.m. ET Saturday, the 68th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is set to begin at 10:10 a.m. Complete live television coverage starts at 10 a.m. on NBCSN, moves to NBC at 3 p.m. and back to NBCSN at 6 p.m. until the race conclusion.