Drivers Taking Wait-and-See Approach to Qualifying Race

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Many IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers are taking a wait-and-see approach to Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100, the first-ever qualifying race for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The 100-minute race, featuring nominated two-driver lineups that will set the grid for the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic, has been among the new elements added to the 2021 season that includes points for qualifying.

“Very honestly when I first saw that news come out I was [wondering] why that was necessary,” said Pfaff Motorsports driver Laurens Vanthoor. “But I think by now considering we’re a new team [to each other], it’s not bad for warmup.

“I know why IMSA wants to do that and I get it. But also for us and the teams it’s a good warmup to see how we operate together, maybe see some mistakes we could prevent for the race. 

“For sure the goal is not to go like crazy and crash into each other.

“I see it a bit as a test race where the result is not the most important. Obviously we want to qualify up front like normal qualifying but it’s more to learn and get ready.”

Vanthoor’s co-driver Zach Robichon said the race could help their team, which missed the majority of the 2020 WeatherTech Championship season due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

“We benefit from it more than some other teams because of our lack of running last year,” he said. “Because of that it still is the Roar and we’re trying to keep the same mindset that we always would on this weekend.

“It’s testing and a learning weekend.

“We have to be careful as it is so close in the timeline [to the 24-hour race] but it is a dress rehearsal and we’re going to use it for that.”

The addition of the race is understood to be beneficial to IMSA’s technical department in terms of establishing the Balance of Performance for each class, with the added incentive of qualifying points being awarded for the first time in series’ history.

“I think every point counts,” said Patrick Long. “Coming two points short of the championship [last year] makes you think about that one instance in the season that may have changed the way the championship unfolded.

“It’s hard to look back and unwind the past. It will drive you crazy in motorsport.

“We have to try and capture every point that we can and for that reason we’ll be pushing hard on Sunday.

Long echoed Robichon’s thoughts on the the qualifying race as another form of “testing” prior to the main show next weekend.

“I’m a little reserved about what to say until it pans out,” he said. “I think about sustainability and the measure of potential damage before the race or more running time. But at the same time we need to put on a show.

“We need people to find their way into a rhythm before the big race. There’s a lot of upsides but there’s other things that I have a little bit of question over.

“I like some of the things we’ve done over the last couple of years of qualifying for your pit garage and putting a little more competition on the Roar. It’s great that we’ve compressed the schedule.

“Let’s wait and see how it goes. Personally it’s a chance to run with the other cars. It’s a different way of testing, that’s the way I look at it.”

DPi star Pipo Derani, meanwhile, believes Sunday’s race will force some teams to “put all their cards on the table.”

“I think that’s positive, especially with the way we go racing with BoP,” he said.

“Having a race to qualify for the big one is important. It can give the championship an opportunity to have a really balanced field for when the 24 hours come.”

JDC Miller Motorsports driver Sebastien Bourdais shared similar thoughts to Derani.

“I think there’s pros and cons,” said the Frenchman. “I don’t particularly have an opinion because we haven’t gone through it. But it’s one way for everybody to show their cards and mix it up.

“It definitely legitimizes the Roar a little bit more in turning it into more of a racing event than just come and hang out and test a few things and be casual about it.

“It’s going to be a little more important. First of all you’re racing, second of all you want to keep your equipment unscratched. There’s quite a few things you want to be careful about.”

Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report

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