Pruett's prototype clocks 1:46.928
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Scott Pruett managed only one fast lap Thursday, and it was good enough to put his Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype on the pole for this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
"You're dealing with close to 30 prototypes out there this year. That's nearly double last year and you have to find an open space to run in," Pruett said. "It's a new element and good for the sport to have so many prototypes, but it means you're trying to find that one lap where you can really lay one down."
Pruett, who was co-champion of the prototype series in 2004 with Italy's Max Papis, did just that, with time running out in the qualifying session. He turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 46.928 seconds moments before the checkered flag.
Pruett averaged 119.856 mph on the 3.56-mile road course that uses about three-fourths of the 2½-mile NASCAR oval and also winds through the infield of the famed Daytona track.
That was just a bit slower than the 1:45.783 (121.154 mph) Pruett ran while winning the Daytona pole last year in the debut of the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus. He went on to finish 10th in the race.
"Quite frankly, I think this is the toughest race in the world to win," said Pruett, who will co-drive with Daytona rookies Luis Diaz of Mexico and Australian-born Ryan Briscoe. "I know Chip has brought three very strong teams here to try to add this race to all the accomplishments he has in racing. It would be great to win it again."
The three-time Trans-Am champion and race winner in both Champ Car and IROC, now has five poles in 13 Rolex Grand Am Series races.
Pruett, part of the winning team here in 1994 and a five-time class champion at Daytona, barely beat a Pontiac Riley driven by Max Angelelli of Italy for this latest pole. Angelelli, the veteran endurance racer who will share the cockpit with Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard, turned a lap of 1:46.945 (119.837).
"Before qualifying, I was very sure I would win the pole," Angelelli said with a shrug. "Scott just had a little better lap at the end. But it's a very long race and anything can happen."
Last season, overall, the Ganassi team won 11 poles in 12 events and finished the season with seven in a row.
Papis, now co-driving a Pontiac Riley with German's Jorg Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin of England, was third at 1:47.260 (119.590), followed by the other two Ganassi entries. Stefan Johansson, who will share a Lexus Riley with NASCAR's Jamie McMurray and Cort Wagner, was fourth at 1:47.260 (119.485), while New Zealander Scott Dixon was next at 1:47.480 (119.241) in the Lexus Riley. He will co-drive with fellow IRL star Darren Manning of England and NASCAR's Casey Mears.
NASCAR will be well represented in the race that starts at noon on Saturday, with former champions Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte and last year's Nextel Cup runner-up Jimmie Johnson all part of teams that qualified in the top 10.
Reigning Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais of France, who will co-drive with 80-year-old actor-racer Paul Newman, former Champ Car champion Cristiano da Matta of Brazil and car owner Michael Brockman, qualified a Ford Crawford prototype 13th on Thursday.
Kurt Busch, the Nextel Cup champion, was not even at the track Thursday, but the Ford Multimatic prototype he will share with fellow NASCAR stars Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle was qualified 16th by Canadian sports car ace Scott Maxwell.
The race, which used to be known as the Daytona 24-Hours, remains America's most prestigious sports car endurance event.
This year, it will include only two classes, the prototypes and the generally less powerful GT cars. For the start of the twice-around-the-clock event, the protypes will start ahead of the GT entries, regardless of qualifying position.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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