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Pipo Derani's pole lap at Long Beach was 1 minute, 11.388 seconds. (IMSA photo)

Derani Delivers Third Consecutive GTP Pole Award

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The Motul Pole Award streak rolls on for Pipo Derani.

The 30-year-old Brazilian, the two-time and defending top prototype class champion in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, added another mark to his resume with his first Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) pole position on the streets of Long Beach ahead of Saturday’s 100-minute Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race.

It’s Derani’s third consecutive pole overall and 12th in his IMSA career, after also scoring the top spot in qualifying at the first two races of 2024 — the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac.

This one saw Derani bank his eventual pole lap of 1 minute, 11.388 seconds (99.243 mph) on his sixth lap, driving the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R.

It was fortunate that he set the lap when he did because, when trying to improve it toward the end of the 15-minute session, he nosed his car into the Turn 9 tire barrier.

Derani was able to reverse out and make it back to the pit lane to avoid losing his pole-winning flag for causing a red-flag stoppage, whereupon he covered up the left front quarter panel damage with an astutely placed Motul Pole Award sign.

“I put the lap in early and it was enough,” said Derani, who shares the car with Jack Aitken. “The last flying lap I requested the team not to talk over the radio. I came to the end a little bit quicker. I thought I’d try it to push an extra gap if necessary.

“It starts to get a bit quicker. I locked up and went into the barriers. I had to come off the barriers quickly and had to remind myself how to get it done. I knew how important it was to get on pole here. We can swap the nose. A race here is so important to start on pole.”

Coming up just shy of the pole was Nick Yelloly, only 0.009 seconds in arrears, in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8. The Englishman and teammate Connor De Phillippi will roll off second, the same position they finished this race last year.

Cadillac Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais came close to knocking Derani off the pole despite not taking the track until five minutes were left due to an electrical issue with the Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R.

Limited to two laps at speed, Bourdais dodged slower GTP traffic twice but made it only up to third fastest on his final lap, just 0.023 seconds back of pole.

“I think we were on the money, just obviously had a hybrid fault and couldn’t start the car,” Bourdais said. “The guys managed to find a default position that disabled something and managed to get us going. I got impeded on two of those three laps that we had, and particularly the quick lap. It’s a shame but at the same time it’s mixed feelings.

“Starting P3 is a lot better than not putting a lap in and starting P10.”

The pair of Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 cars line up fourth and fifth, with defending race winners Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy fourth in the No. 6 Porsche 963 and Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr fifth in their No. 7 Porsche 963.

Jordan Taylor placed the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 sixth, best of the two Acuras, just over three-tenths of a second in arrears of the pole. Taylor shares the car with Long Beach debutante Louis Deletraz.

Thompson Leads Lexus In Long Beach GTD Qualifying

Safe to say Vasser Sullivan and Lexus put a fair amount of emphasis on the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Parker Thompson and Frankie Montecalvo delivered in qualifying on Friday.

With Vasser Sullivan’s two-car lineup reconfigured to fit the single-class format of the 100-minute round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Thompson prevailed over his regular teammate Montecalvo to claim the Motul Pole Award for the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class.

Thompson whipped the No. 89 Lexus RC F GT3 around the classic 1.968-mile street course in 1 minute, 17.357 seconds (91.585 mph). Montecalvo was second fastest (1:17.619/91.276 mph) in the No. 12 Lexus he normally shares with Thompson.

At most WeatherTech Championship races, Vasser Sullivan Lexus fields the No. 12 in GTD along with a No. 14 entry in the GTD PRO class driven by Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth. The cars that compete in the two classes are actually identical.

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Parker Thompson whipped the No. 89 Lexus RC F GT3 around the classic 1.968-mile street course in 1 minute, 17.357 seconds. (IMSA photo)

GTD PRO is not part of the field at Long Beach, so Vasser Sullivan and Lexus decided to enter the second car as the No. 89.

Hawksworth is teamed with Montecalvo in the No. 12, while Barnicoat is sharing what is regularly the No. 14 car with Thompson. The number 89 was selected to honor Lexus’ first year in the United States market.

Barnicoat and Hawksworth claimed the GTD PRO class victory for Lexus and Vasser Sullivan in 2023 on their way to the season championship.

On Friday at Long Beach, Thompson displayed sizzling form in qualifying, laying down three laps that were fast enough for the pole. It was his second pole of the season following the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and this one set a new track record for the class.

“There was a lot of pressure today,” Thompson said. “We did a qualifying simulation in Practice 2, and I thought we were going to have to work really hard for that pole. To be 1-2, I’m really proud and that just shows how good our Lexus is around the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“But that’s only half the job, unfortunately,” he added. “They only give you a medal for pole, they don’t give you a trophy. Tomorrow is the big day.”

Thompson credited engineer Geoff Fickling for easing his transition into what normally operates as the No. 14 GTD PRO team for the Long Beach weekend.

“He didn’t throw the kitchen sink at it, but he gave me a lot of changes for qualifying,” Thompson said. “You never really know how that’s going to go, but you can’t not trust Geoff Fickling. The guy is just pretty on it, and today is a testament to that. The car was fantastic.”

Saturday’s race sets up the fascinating prospect of Lexus drivers who are normally teamed together racing against each other. For Montecalvo and Thompson, it carries title implications since the points they score at Long Beach count toward the season long driver’s championship. And one is going to outscore the other.

“I think everybody wants the No. 12 to have a good race; that is the priority,” Thompson observed. “Obviously, they’re in the full-time championship, and that’s my full-time home. So, I’m sure that we’ll play friendly to make sure both cars get through Turn 1 (at the start) and hopefully finish 1-2 in the race.”

Albert Costa Balboa qualified third in the No. 34 Conquest Racing Ferrari 296 GT3, while Roman De Angelis completed the second row in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo.