IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Qualifying Report from Montréal
Sun Shines On Sean Johnston As He Captures His First Career Pole
MONTRÉAL, Quebec, Saturday, June 9, 2012—Qualifying for the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series began this morning on a very different surface than the day before at the Grand Prix Du Canada in Montréal.
It was the same track, and the same configuration on the 14-turn Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, but bright blue cloudless skies ensured a completely dry surface this morning, completely unlike the ever-changing environment teams faced yesterday in practice.
Tire-wear and weather strategy were key in yesterday’s practice session as a late-breaking cloudburst forced a short delay and put drivers and crews on a very saturated surface.
With sun squeezing through the clouds, the rest of the session was guaranteed to improve, forcing teams to decide which set of Yokohama tires, rain or slick, they would opt to run.
The shortened 30-minute session brought a steep learning curve to the 34 US and Canadian Series’ participants as they learned valuable lessons in traffic management and patience on the 2.71-mile circuit.
No one was more appreciative of “going back to school” than 21-year-old Sean Johnston, who sailed to the front of the pack in this morning’s qualifying session to earn his very first career pole, which comes fresh off of his very first career victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca just a few short weeks ago.
“This is pretty exciting for me and pretty special,” he grinned as he stepped out of his 2012 Porsche 997. “It’s a good string of weekends coming out of Laguna with my first career win and then to get my first career pole here is amazing. The team gave me a great car and every single lap we are out there we are learning something new about the track because we had zero dry running in practice yesterday. It was coming at us at a gazillion miles an hour and I was just grateful to hold it together for one fast lap late in the session.”
Johnston’s pace in Platinum was followed closely by professional Guest Driver and Canadian Kyle Marcelli in the Pfaff/Fiorano Racing entry who agreed that no matter what your experience level, Porsche GT3 Cup racing is always a challenge.
“We took the green and I think all of us are still learning,” the Barrie, Ontario native said. “I was here six years ago, but it all really is new especially in these cars. So we treat every lap we get that’s green as just a practice lap for us regardless of if we are qualifying or not. I am still really getting my reference points down, but we are getting there, and all in all it was a great run and lots of fun.”
Contact by the No. 14 of Randy Oswald exiting out of turn five forced a red flag nearly halfway through the session, halting progress and heating up the battle, as the countdown to the checkered flag loomed closer with less lap time.
As the teams went back to green with less than 10 minutes left in the session US Series participant Fernando Pena gave challenge to D. Bryce Miller in his GMG Racing entry and took the edge, as well as P2 overall in Platinum, after Miller made a tricky spin in turn four and narrowly avoided contact.
“It was really our first time to get out and learn the track under race conditions,” the young Californian said. “So we worked into it and put out a pretty good time in the beginning which we thought was going to help us with the red flag putting us tentatively on pole, but with eight minutes to go they sent us back out and on my out lap I ended up spinning due to a bit of oil left over from the accident. We kept going and unfortunately we were just not able to put anything together. But we are starting P4 tomorrow and I am confident that we will pace well in the race to keep everyone honest.”
The overall point position in Gold Class went to Ansa Motorsport’s Angel Rafael Benitez Jr. who held off Melanie Snow and Mitch Landry to take the pole.
“I really, really like this track,” said the young Venezuelan. “It’s awesome, and not as hard as I thought. I just tried to use the tires as best I could today and we posted our best lap in the first five laps out, so the rest of the session we just tried to conserve our Yokohama’s for tomorrow.”
The Canadian Series participants waged their own war in their native land, with Etienne Borgeat of GT Racing holding off Marco Cirone to take the Platinum Canadian point, and Bruce Gregory of SpeedMerchants finishing just ahead of Shaun McKaigue to take the Canadian Gold lead on the starting grid.
Tomorrow’s IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama race is scheduled for 10:40 a.m. local time in Montréal. A true “Can-Am” challenge with the mixed Canadian and US Series entries, the 34 entries will enjoy the same weather as today’s qualifying session, but the high car count will create high traffic and tough racing conditions for the international competitors.
In the meantime, Johnston certainly enjoyed his own “read” on the track.
“It was pretty amazing today to drive by the jumbotron down in the hairpin after the checkered flag and see my name on the big screen in the top spot!”
Race Schedule Sunday, June 10
10:40-11:10 AM IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Race (30 min.)