DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Considering he hadn’t driven the car until a day prior, Marco Wittman’s effort Saturday in Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying is all the more impressive.
A long-time BMW factory driver, Wittman joined No. 24 BMW Team RLL for this year’s attempt to repeat as GT Le Mans (GTLM) winner in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The 31-year-old German didn’t drive the BMW M8 GTE until testing began Friday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, but that didn’t stop him from setting the fastest qualifying time for his class on Saturday.
In slick conditions, Wittman toured the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course in 1 minute, 42.980 seconds (124.451 mph) to secure the first GTLM starting position in Sunday’s 100-minute race that sets the starting grid for the 59th Rolex 24 on Jan. 30-31.
“Yesterday was actually the first laps ever for me in the M8 GTE,” Wittman said, “so every lap (I’m) trying to get more into the car, feeling the confidence, and then I have to say that the qualifying went pretty good. It was a bit tricky because there were some damp spots on track, but it worked out pretty well and I’m happy with the result. It’s just the beginning, it’s a long week, but it’s been a good start.”
Wittman is teaming in the No. 24 with John Edwards, Jess Krohn and Augusto Farfus – the latter trio all members of last year’s Rolex 24 GTLM winner. Wittman and Farfus will share the car for the Motul Pole Award 100, which limits each entry to two drivers.
Wittman said the primary benefit of being fastest qualifier for a qualifying race is the emotional boost it provides.
“It’s always good to start in the right way, in a good way – also to keep the motivation high for the team,” he said. “There is a lot of work behind (the scenes). All of the mechanics, the engineers, hands on, it’s always great to know if you’re bringing a good result. It keeps the motivation and the spirit high.”
The team’s second car, the No. 25 BMW, was second quick in qualifying, which Timo Glock clocked at 1:43.623 (123.679 mph) on his best lap.
In the GT Daytona class, Ryan Hardwick claimed the class pole for the Motul Pole Award 100. While the pole doesn’t count as an official pole in the record books, Hardwick was thrilled nonetheless.
“This is all new for us, this entire qualifying process,” Hardwick said after turning a lap of 1:46.831 (119.965 mph) that made him the best of 19 GTD qualifiers for Sunday’s race. Since the Motul Pole Award for the upcoming Rolex 24 At Daytona is determined from the results of the qualifying race, Saturday’s effort doesn’t count as Hardwick’s first career pole position.
“That felt like this was my first, I guess not quite officially, a pole in the WeatherTech Championship, but I’m going to take it as such,” he said. “I didn’t get the Motul sticker but I’m going to remember this one for a long time. It was a great lap, probably one of the best laps I’ve ever put together.”
The driver of the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R was proud of his accomplishment in the treacherous conditions that saw light rain fall intermittently throughout the day.
“It’s really rewarding for me to put together a lap like that in the conditions that we had today,” Hardwick said. “It was raining in the frontstretch every lap and going into Turn 1 was super slick, and then it was kind of dry in other parts of the track. You had to be really disciplined to understand when you could push and when you had to be a little reserved, so it took a little bit of balance today.”
Hardwick’s lap was .264 seconds better than Simon Mann in the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3. The top six GTD qualifiers came within a half-second of each other.
Hardwick, who will team with his full-season co-driver, Patrick Long, in Sunday’s qualifying race, isn’t sure what to expect, especially since the car sustained significant damage from an incident during Saturday night’s practice session.
“Normally in a 100-minute race, track position is key,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows how it’s going to go tomorrow.”