Keating Edges to Pole in LMP2, van Berlo in LMP3
Louis Deletraz already parlayed his impressive performance as the third driver in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 in endurance races this year to secure a full-season seat when Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport expands to two Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) cars in 2024.
He proved his worth again Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta by earning the Motul Pole Award for the 26th running of the Motul Petit Le Mans, the 2023 season finale for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
In slick, half wet/half dry conditions, Deletraz hustled the car he is sharing with full-season drivers Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque to a lap of 1 minute, 15.402 seconds (121.269 mph) around the undulating 2.54 miles and 12 corners. Sebastien Bourdais, who was fastest in practice in dry conditions in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, qualified second at 1:15.632 (120.900 mph).
The points Deletraz scored for securing his first career WeatherTech Championship pole, when combined with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R qualifying eighth, lifted the No. 10 Acura into the GTP championship lead by nine points over the No. 31, with the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 and the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 still in striking distance, 11 and 45 points back, respectively.
The title will be resolved over 10 hours of racing Saturday on what is expected to be a warmer and drier day.
“When Wayne Taylor Racing told me I was going to qualify this weekend, obviously I'm always happy to do it, but it also added pressure because we are fighting for the championship,” Deletraz said. “It’s a big show of trust from them.
“I’m super happy for what we achieved. It’s good for the championship, good for me and good for everyone. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and think we had a very strong car today.”
As the last group to qualify Friday afternoon, Deletraz and the other GTP competitors started their 20-minute session on a damp track with light mist lingering over the circuit. After starting on slick Michelin tires, everyone elected to soon pit for treaded wet-weather tires as the rain increased.
Just prior to the checkered flag, Bourdais recorded the lap that ultimately netted him and teammates Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon a starting spot on the front row. Meanwhile, Deletraz was uncertain whether he would be able to complete a final lap after leaving the decision to change to a second set of wet tires for one final run until the very last minute.
“It was very tough,” he said. “I was hoping for dry conditions, to be honest, because we had a very fast car in the dry. It was definitely too wet for slicks, and I couldn’t put energy or heat into the tires. And I didn’t want to take risks – this is really not the time to crash the car.
“I think we may have pitted for wets a lap late compared to some others, but we reacted to that,” Deletraz added. “But I felt good, I pushed. I got a bit of traffic at the last chicane, but the lap was good enough to make it.”
Among the championship contenders, the No. 6 Porsche qualified fifth in class, directly ahead of the No. 25 BMW. The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura, with a remote chance to pull out the title, qualified fourth and is 131 points out of the lead. The No. 7 Penske Porsche qualified seventh and sits 81 points out of first.
The Motul Petit Le Mans runs from 11:40 a.m. to 9:40 p.m. ET, with flag-to-flag coverage available on Peacock and IMSA.com. USA Network joins the race in progress from 6:30 p.m. to the finish.
Keating’s Furious Last-Second Lap Wins LMP2 Pole
With a championship and an influential award on the line, Ben Keating got the early jump on the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class.
Keating won the Motul Pole Award for the class Friday with a last-second lap of 1:13.859 (123.803 mph) in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07, giving himself and co-drivers Paul-Loup Chatin and Alex Quinn the prerace edge over their closest competitors.
The pole shaved the championship lead held by the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 co-driven by Steven Thomas, Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker to just 17 points heading into Saturday’s season finale. Thomas posted the second-fastest lap of the LMP2 qualifying session – 1:13.879.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Keating, the first LMP2 driver to switch to slick tires during intermittent rain in the LMP2-LMP3 qualifying session. “I took a ton of risk and completely sent it across (Turns) 10A and 10B and pulled it off. It was pretty magical to get it in that way. Now I hope the championship comes down to that qualifying.”
The pole also gave Keating a slight advantage in the competition for the Jim Trueman Award, which goes to the top Bronze-rated LMP2 driver in the final standings.
Three drivers – Keating, Thomas and George Kurtz – are tied atop the Trueman standings heading into Saturday’s race. The award includes an invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.
“We talked about how big this pole was,” Keating said. “The margin was 0.02 seconds. I was joking that I chose not to wear my watch during qualifying, which might have been the difference. … We all know what’s at stake. To be able to pull it off in the last handful of corners when I knew I didn’t have it – to be able to perform like that under pressure – was pretty special.”
John Falb had the third-fastest lap of 1:14.380 in the No. 35 TDS Racing ORECA he co-drives with Giedo van der Garde and Josh Pierson. Kurtz was fourth fastest in the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA he shares with Ben Hanley and Nolan Siegel.
Van Berlo Puts Andretti Ligier in Top LMP3 Spot in Bid to Repeat
Glenn van Berlo is the new member of the Andretti Autosport team defending its Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) victory at Motul Petit Le Mans. The talented Dutch driver helped set the No. 36 Ligier JS P320 on a path to repeat by taking the Motul Pole Award in qualifying.
Van Berlo posted a best lap of 1:16.674 (119.257 mph) midway through the 15-minute session in slick conditions and saw it hold up by 0.129 seconds over Rasmus Lindh (No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Duqueine D08). It’s the second pole of van Berlo’s WeatherTech Championship season and career, following the one he snared in LMP3 at Sebring in March.
It wasn’t the easiest session for van Berlo, even with the pole-winning accomplishment. The slippery conditions contributed to him running wide and edging into the grass in Turn 4 on one lap, but he saved the car from going completely off track and brought it back to the pits.
“It was tricky out there,” van Berlo said. “You couldn’t really get the heat into the tire and then in the entry to (Turn) 3 I went a little bit through the wet and got a big snap on the entry and I went through the grass. That’s the reason for the grass on the car.”
Van Berlo was one of only four LMP3 drivers to participate in the qualifying session, with three teams electing not to run in the sketchy conditions. The No. 74 Riley Ligier was among those electing not to qualify but will still clinch the LMP3 season championship by starting the race on Saturday.
Van Berlo joins Jarett Andretti and Gabby Chaves in the No. 36 Andretti Ligier, the latter two returning as winners from last year at Michelin Raceway with Josh Burdon.
“I think we are looking quite good in comparison to the others,” van Berlo said. “Yesterday we had a really strong (practice) run with race fuel (and) tire deg seems to be really good with the current setup that we have. Obviously, it’s a long race. With 52 cars on track, a lot can happen, so it’s challenging. We will try to stay out of trouble, no penalties and then I think we can fight for a good position .”