Scott Pruett drives the Ganassi Racing BMW Riley to win the pole position during qualifying for the Rolex 24 hour auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Thursday, January 24, 2013 6:46 pm
Pruett earns pole for Rolex 24 at Daytona
By MARK LONGAP Sports Writer
Pruett earned the pole Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the prestigious, twice-around-the-clock endurance event that kicks off the racing season.
Pruett covered the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in 1 minute, 40.553 seconds. He averaged 127.455 mph in the Daytona Prototype class, a tad faster than Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon.
"For us coming here for the first race, having (both cars) on the front row looks pretty good so far," Pruett said.
Dane Cameron of Team Sahlen was third.
Nick Tendy claimed the top spot in the Grand Touring class. Shane Lewis headed the GX class, which is making its debut at Daytona.
The star-studded field drivers from 22 countries. Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar drivers are well represented.
The field includes defending race winner AJ Allmendinger, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Nelson Piquet Jr., Christian Fittipaldi, Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello.
NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray and Marcos Ambrose also are in the field.
But all eyes, as usual at this event, are on Pruett and his Ganassi teammates.
Pruett, a four-time race winner, is looking to tie Hurley Haywood's record of five victories.
"It's interesting, but it's truly not at all (on my mind)," Pruett said.
Pruett is again the lead drive for one of Ganassi's all-star entries. He's teamed in the No. 01 BMW/Riley entry with Memo Rojas, Montoya and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball. Pruett and Rojas are the three-time defending series champs.
Dixon, four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, McMurray and sports-car driver Joey Hand are in Ganassi's No. 02 car. None of them race full time in the Grand-Am Series.
"When you get on board the 01, it's certainly a different mentality than the 02 car," Pruett said. "The 01 is a seasoned car. We look for every point out of every race to try to go after a championship. With the 02 car, sometimes it's just for one race, the 24 or what we saw last year with a couple races. There are different attitudes, and with that I think, comes respect with the 01 car that you've got to run fast, you've got to run smart."
Both Ganassi teams will be looking to rebound from disappointing races at Daytona. The cars finished fourth and sixth after dealing with mechanical issues in 2012.
Allmendinger took the checkered flag a year ago for Michael Shank Racing. He qualified sixth Thursday, two spots ahead of teammate Michael Valiante.
"It's all good," Shank said. "The cars are ready, we're good for the race and I'm pretty happy so far. ... We have a good start to the weekend. It's where we qualified last year when we won the race, so we're good."
Grand-Am officials made a few tweaks in hopes of leveling the field. Those included a little more horsepower for the BMW engines, which help Pruett get that record-tying trip to Victory Lane.
But he knows it won't be easy - not against such a competitive and talented field.
"Short of contact, we can run these cars hard," Pruett said. "We've shown over the last three years, when they drop the green flag, we can run a very aggressive, sprint pace. The only thing we need to be careful of is not getting caught up in traffic of somebody else's mistake, and we do. Over the years, the car's been developed enough with the gear box, the brakes, the engines and so on, where they're meant to go thousands of miles.
"I think it's going to be an epic race. Coming down to the checkered flag, it's truly going to be epic."