With everyone on pit road watching the scoring monitors from the edge of their seats, Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande stole the Rolex 24 At Daytona Motul Pole Award from Acura Team Penske and Helio Castroneves on the final lap of the 15-minute qualifying session Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Van der Zande’s lap of 1:36.083 (133.378 mph) edged Castroneves by 0.007 seconds as time expired. Van der Zande joins defending Prototype champion Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. this season and will be joined in the Rolex 24 by IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ironically, Castroneves’ teammate this season is Jordan Taylor’s former co-driver and older brother Ricky Taylor.
“Stepping up to Prototype class and getting promoted to the championship team, these guys expect a lot from you,” van der Zande said. “I think that’s why these guys are champions. I can’t thank this whole team and crew enough. Being here feels incredible. I didn’t expect to grab this pole. They waited until I was in turn 5 before they told me I was on the pole and I was over the moon. I thought it was a good lap. I thought I overshot on turn 5, so I floored it and managed to get the car going, maybe that’s what did it, but I made it.”
Castroneves moves to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge full-time in 2018 following a sure fire Hall of Fame career in open-wheel competition. He’ll start from the second position in the team’s debut of the No. 7 Acura DPi.
“I did everything I could,” he said. “Unfortunately, just got beat by .007 seconds. Nothing you can do about that. It’s ok though. We looked strong. The guys are going to have to fix a couple of things on the car because I was pushing it really hard.
“But we are starting on the front row, which is a pretty big deal. It’s a good start for our team. We have a lot of things to learn still, but really happy for Acura Team Penske and all of the guys. We’ve worked hard to get to this point and we have a few more practices to fine tune it for Saturday.”
Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, who is making his IMSA debut this weekend, qualified 13th in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LM P2. Despite the qualifying position, Alonso knows he and co-drivers Lando Norris and Phil Hanson have plenty of time to make it up.
“Normally I have 60 laps or 70 laps to recover what I may have done in qualifying, and on Saturday we have 24 hours,” he said. “The qualifying was not the key point of this weekend hopefully.”
The top 13 cars in the Prototype class were separated by less than one second.