at New Jersey, Takes AIM Autosport’s Third Grand-Am Rolex Series Pole of 2008
Mark Wilkins saved his best for last Saturday at Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park, winning the pole for Sunday's Supercar Life 250, the penultimate of 14 rounds for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. The race takes the green flag at 1:07 p.m. ET (SPEED, Live, 1 p.m. ET Sunday).
Wilkins tamed the 2.25-mile, 12-turn layout with a lap of 1:11.761 (112.875 mph) late in the 15-minute session, good enough to capture his second pole position of the season. He won the pole at Daytona in July the last time he qualified, while co-driver Brian Frisselle also won a pole at Watkins Glen International earlier this month.
Second, with a lap of 1:12.023 (112.424 mph), was three-time 2008 pole winner Michael Valiante, winner of the most recent Rolex Series event, the Armed Forces 250 at Infineon Raceway last weekend.
Joey Hand qualified third at 1:12.028 (112.456 mph), in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Ruby Tuesday Porsche Riley that was fastest in all four qualifying sessions at the brand-new circuit. He will be joined on the second row by Jon Fogarty, who ran a lap of 1:12.111 (112.327 mph) in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley co-driven by Alex Gurney.
Fogarty and Gurney enter the penultimate round of the 2008 Daytona Prototype championship trailing Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas by 42 points (364-322). Pruett destroyed the primary No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley in a horrific testing accident Thursday, shearing the back half of the car away from the cockpit. While Pruett was evaluated and released from a nearby hospital, the team flew to Indianapolis to prepare the backup car - an original-style Riley that the team drove to victory in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona that had been converted to a show car. The rebuilt Riley was expected to be back at the New Jersey circuit late Saturday afternoon, and will be ready for Sunday's final practice at 8 a.m.
Nic Jonsson qualified fifth in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola co-driven by Ricardo Zonta. Marc-Antoine Camirand, David Donohue, Antonio Garcia and Mark Patterson rounded out the top 10 qualifiers.
New Jersey Motorsports Park principal RJ Valentine wanted to see his car up near the front for the circuit's inaugural event, and Bryan Sellers did just that, earning the GT pole No. 68 TRG Porsche GT3 car.
Sellers responded by running a lap of 1:19.024 (102.501 mph) to lead GT qualifying. Valentine usually qualifies the car, with Sellers winning the second pole of his career but his first since his series debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March 2005.
"RJ really wanted to have his car sit up front in qualifying," Sellers said. "Fortunately, the crew did everything they needed to do to get me a good car for qualifying. We were fortunately enough to come through with the pole."
Sellers' Porsche was followed by four Pontiacs in the session. Andrew Davis ran his best lap at the end of the session in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Stevenson Automotive/BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R but came up short in his bid for his first pole of the campaign, taking second at 1:19.261 (102.194 mph).
Point co-leader Kelly Collins qualified his No. 07 Banner Racing Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R third with a time of 1:19.270 (102.182 mph. Collins will be joined on the second row by Patrick Barrett in the No. 32 PR1 Motorsports Miracle Sealants/Konika Minolta Pontiac GXP.R at 1:19.280 (102.158 mph).
Rounding out the top five in GT qualifying was Ryan Phinny in the No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports Pontiac GTO.R, at 1:19.289 (102.170 mph).
Collins and Paul Edwards lead Nick Ham and Sylvain Tremblay by six points (316-310), with Davis and Robin Liddell 16 points behind the leaders. Ham qualified sixth in the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Mazda RX-8 at 1:19.421 (101.988 mph).
The Supercar Life 250 will cover 250 miles - 112 laps - with a two hour, 45-minute time limit.
POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES (FRONT ROW QUALIFIERS IN EACH CLASS)
Mark Wilkins (No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley): "It's going to be very difficult. There's no question about that. It's a very narrow track, so there are not a lot of opportunities to get by. It's going to be very critical to set up the passes early to get good runs out of the corners and ultimately ensure that you're in the right gear and that you're looking well down the track so you can set up your passes. This is going to be a very difficult place to pass and its going to be about staying out of trouble and not getting involved in an incident with the GT cars.
"The first half of the track is very fast and then its tight in the last section. That's a very critical section because you need to get a good run on into the font straightaway because one of the key passing zones is into Turn 1. So it's imperative that really you get the car to work well out of Turn 10, which is the left hander before coming down the long front straight. You have to be good in the high speed to because that's were you can make up some time and hopefully gap some of these guys.
"This track likes to have some wing. Over the course of the testing our car responded better with more downforce."
Michael Valiante (No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara): "The car kept getting better. We kept going quicker and quicker. On both of my fastest laps, I was passing cars, so it's great that we're starting on the front row, but I definitely think we had a pole car today because I didn't get the most out of it, catching traffic. The car was really consistent like it was in qualifying at Sonoma. I think we have a really good race car again. But it really would've been nice to be on the pole again.
"I think it's going to be a tough race. I don't think it's going to come down to speed at all. It's going to come down to more about who's got the most reliable car here, and about getting through traffic cleanly because it's unbelievable how tough it is to pass here. That's what it's going to come down to."
Bryan Sellers (No. 68 TRG Porsche GT3): "This weekend is a little bit different. If everyone in here doesn't know RJ (Valentine) is a private investor in the track. He's taking a lot of ownership in everything that's happening this weekend and he really wanted to see-in front of his home crowd and all of his business partners and sponsors and people that help out-the cars set up front in qualifying and fortunately the crew did everything they needed to do to get me a new car for qualifying. We were fortunate enough to come through."
Andrew Davis (No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R): "Well I certainly did make it more excited than I planned on. I wasn't able to maximize the lap early on when the tires were at their best. I was happy with the Pirelli tire all the way through the run. I was able to get a good run in there just one lap from the end. I was hoping to have a better one after it but I had some traffic and I made a mistake on another lap - it would have been quick. It's really good for the Stevenson Motorsports crew. It's very exciting. We've been working really hard, making a lot of changes the whole week. Bryan (Sellers) and I are good friends. It's the second time actually; last pole I think I was second on the grid, too."