Felipe Nasr wins first IMSA pole with Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for Motul Petit Le Mans
Nasr shatters lap record by nearly two seconds
Felipe Nasr rocketed to the top of a record-setting qualifying session Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, collecting his first Motul Pole Award in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition and earning the prime starting spot for the 22nd annual Motul Petit Le Mans.
Piloting the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, Nasr shattered by nearly two seconds the lap record set a year ago by co-driver Pipo Derani, to take the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and overall pole positions. Nasr sped around the 12-turn, 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway road course in one minute, 8.457 seconds (133.573 mph) to nail down his maiden pole position in his second season in the series.
“Finally! It’s great to get a pole position, after all I’ve spent, what, two years in the series,” Nasr said. “I’ve been close a few times, but never got the job done. It’s a nice place to do it here at Road Atlanta.
“I have to say I was pretty happy with the lap. … I felt pretty confident going into qualifying because I knew the car I had on my hands. I worked with my engineer on the final details and I think it paid off.”
The effort also kept alive the No. 31’s hopes to repeat as DPi champions. Nasr, Derani and third driver Eric Curran must win Saturday’s iconic 10-hour race and have the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi finish ninth or worse to complete the back-to-back feat.
“Action Express has done an amazing job to get our Whelen car up front, but I feel like we have a winning package all around,” Nasr said. “It’s the final race of the season, so I want to go for the victory. The boys are in the same spirit as well, so we all want to get the job done and race smart.”
Dane Cameron qualified the No. 6 Acura in fourth position with a lap of 1:08.802 (132.902 mph), during an amazing session that saw all but one of the 11 DPi entries eclipse Derani’s 2018 lap record of 1:10.437. Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya clinch the DPi championship with a finish of eighth place or better on Saturday, no matter what the No. 31 does. Reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud fills out the No. 6 driver lineup for Saturday.
The top five qualifiers Friday were covered by a blanket, all separated by less than four-tenths of a second. Ricky Taylor, Cameron’s teammate in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske, was second at 1:08.598 (133.297 mph). Joao Barbosa, Nasr’s Action Express teammate in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, was third at 1:08.629 (133.237 mph). Timo Bernhard took fifth in the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda at 1:08.847 (132.815 mph).
In Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) qualifying, both entries blasted the 2-year-old lap record by nearly six seconds. Kyle Masson put the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA on the LMP2 pole with a lap of 1:10.722 (129.294 mph). Matthew McMurry was close behind in the No. 52 PRI Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA at 1:10.853 (129.055 mph).
McMurry will win the LMP2 driver’s title and the No. 52 will take the team crown by starting Saturday’s race.
“It was a really competitive qualifying,” said Masson, who will share the No. 38 with Cameron Cassels and Andrew Evans in the race. “Matt (McMurry) did a great job putting down a time. When I heard his position in front of me on our third lap out, I knew I had to put it down. But (1:10)-something for the LMP2 cars, especially with the added weight and the BOP, it was about all I had. I was really happy with it.”
All that remains on the 2019 WeatherTech Championship schedule is a 20-minute warmup starting at 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday, followed by the race. NBC Sports has complete coverage, starting at noon ET Saturday on NBC network with the green flag expected at approximately 12:10 p.m. ET.
Coverage shifts to the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com from 3-5:30 p.m. ET, before NBCSN picks up the broadcast at 5:30 p.m. ET until the race conclusion. IMSA Radio will have live coverage of the entire race on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.