November 12, 2021
By Jeff Olson, David Phillips & Godwin Kelly
IMSA Wire Service
BRASELTON, Ga. – In his last qualifying attempt with Action Express Racing, Felipe Nasr was at his best.
Nasr recorded the fastest lap Friday in qualifying for the 24th Motul Petit Le Mans, putting himself and teammate Pipo Derani closer to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers’ title in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class.
Winning the Motul Pole Award was emotional for Nasr, who will leave Action Express after the race. The team announced last month that Nasr will be replaced next season by Tristan Nunez in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
During a post-qualifying interview, Nasr fought to control his emotions.
“I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the emotions come until after the checkered flag drops (Saturday),” Nasr said. “That shows how much respect and love I have for the team. They took me in as family when I joined halfway through 2017. They’re just a big family to me. … This is something that will always remain. It will be sad to leave them.”
Nasr was clocked at 1 minute, 8.678 seconds (133.142 mph), just 0.015 seconds faster than Harry Tincknell in the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda RT24-P.
“There is so much on the line and you just want to deliver,” Nasr said. “I had a lot of fun. Wow! It’s a great car to drive. … It was all about getting the tires correctly in the window and bringing them up and just nailing those laps.”
The 35-point reward for winning the Motul Pole Award is significant in the team’s battle for the championships in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. Nasr and Derani are now 11 points closer to catching points leaders Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque from the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 in Saturday’s 10-hour season finale.
The gain from winning the pole put Nasr and Derani within eight points of Taylor and Albuquerque for the drivers’ championship. Whichever car finishes higher – the No. 31 or the No. 10 – takes home the crown. Nasr said he was confident beforehand that he had a shot at the pole.
“I knew it was going to be close, but you never know until it’s time, right?” Nasr said. “I was pretty happy with the way we worked with the car yesterday through all the sessions. We adapted to the weather conditions, as well. … Getting the right adjustments to the car was key.”
Albuquerque had the seventh-fastest lap in the No. 10 Acura – 1:09.328 – slowest of all the DPi entries.
The No. 55 of Tincknell, Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito will start ahead of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac shared by Sebastien Bourdais, Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier.
Mike Conway will join Nasr and Derani in the No. 31 car, while Alexander Rossi will join Taylor and Albuquerque in the No. 10.
Keating, PR1 Mathiasen Take ‘Exciting’ LMP2 Pole
Ben Keating grabbed the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) pole in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 but not without an adventure. The Texan’s best lap of 1:12.229 (126.597 mph) outpaced Steven Thomas in the No. 11 WIN Autosport ORECA by 0.354 seconds with Dwight Merriman slotting into third on the LMP2 grid in the No. 18 Era Motorsport entry.
The was Keating’s seventh career pole, despite sliding off course early in the 15-minute session in Turn 3.
“That was an exciting qualifying session,” said Keating. “The sun was right in my eyes and I had no idea when to turn in to the corner. I guessed a little too early and hit the curb, launched into the grass, collected a (trackside) sign, downshifted and got going again. The good thing is I landed in that nice soft, red Georgia clay, so nothing got flat-spotted. The car didn’t look too good – it was pretty dirty – but it felt fine.”
Fine enough for Keating to set three consecutive fastest laps in the waning minutes of the session.
“Each time I thought I’d done my best, and the team told me on the radio that the guys behind were doing better,” he said. “It was a fun challenge to find those extra tenths of a second every lap. I’m confident I’ve never gone through Turn 1 faster than I did on the last lap. That was an adrenaline rush.”
Keating needs only to start Saturday’s race to get another rush, namely securing LMP2 team title for PR1 Mathiasen and the driver title for himself and season-long co-driver Mikkel Jensen.
“It’s a luxury knowing we only have to take the green flag to win the championship,” Keating said. “Obviously, you have to finish in order to win the race, but it’s not like we have to run super safe. Our first goal is to be in first place at the four-hour mark to secure the Michelin Endurance Cup points, then we can really fight for the win in the final six hours.”
Kruetten Nabs First WeatherTech Championship Pole in LMP3
Niklas Kruetten earned his first WeatherTech Championship pole position, driving the No. 2 United Autosports USA Ligier JS P320 to the top of the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) qualifying chart.
Kruetten made the most of limited track time following an early red flag in the session to turn a lap of 1:15.664 seconds (120.849 mph) to score his first pole.
“This place by far is my favorite track,” said Kruetten, who will share the No. 2 LMP3 with Tom Gable and Andrew Meyrick in Saturday’s race. “Pole position is only a small job for a 10-hour race. We have a strong lineup. If we can keep out of trouble, we’ll be good.”
Kruetten’s feat was more impressive since this is his first visit to Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and the team didn’t test leading up to race weekend.
“We came here without doing any testing and didn’t expect much from it,” he said. “The team gave me a mega-car and we got the lap in and it was enough for pole.”
Qualifying offered an interesting twist for the two teams battling for season championship honors.
The points leader, Gar Robinson, who drives the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier, will start fifth in the 10-car LMP3 field. The No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier did not make a qualifying lap due to what the team described as a “fuel cell issue.”
Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun, who will drive the car Saturday with George Kurtz, are unofficially 54 points off Robinson’s lead.
The Motul Petit Le Mans airs live on NBC starting at 12PM ET before switching to NBCSN at 3 PM ET.