The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship is famous for multiclass racing.
Friday on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street course, Filipe Albuquerque and Acura were in a class by themselves.
Albuquerque clocked a lap of 1 minute, 9.909 seconds (101.343 mph) in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 to claim the Motul Pole Award for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was the Portuguese driver’s fourth career IMSA pole and the first of both the 2023 season and the WeatherTech Championship’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) era for Albuquerque and Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport.
Tom Blomqvist locked up the front row for Acura with the second-fastest qualifying lap, a 1:10.583 (100.375 mph) in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian ARX-06 he shares with Colin Braun.
Acura’s previous prototype, built to Daytona Prototype international (DPi) specifications, tended to struggle on the bumpy Long Beach street course. But Albuquerque was confident that the new ARX-06 he shares with Ricky Taylor would be more competitive than its predecessor.
His confidence was justified as the pair of Acuras displayed a significant speed advantage in the two practice sessions earlier in the day, and that strong performance carried over into qualifying.
After starting the season with 24- and 12-hour endurance contests, the 100-minute Long Beach race opens the sprint portion of the WeatherTech Championship schedule.
“The last two years we were always suffering here, but statistics in the first two races this year showed we are really competitive,” Albuquerque said. “But I must say I was not expecting to be so competitive compared to the competitors – especially the Cadillac. (The Cadillac) has no turbo engine, so putting the power down is a strong point for that car. But obviously they are struggling with something.
“At the end of the day, it’s about ticking all the boxes on a complex car that everybody is still learning about,” he added. “I think the communication between Honda Performance Development and the teams is going fantastic and smooth. We did the homework, and it’s paying off. I’m super happy about it.”
Defending Long Beach winner Sebastien Bourdais set the early pace in the 20-minute qualifying session in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R before Albuquerque became the first driver to break into the 1-minute, 11-second bracket.
Blomqvist briefly took the top spot with a 1:10.720 with five minutes remaining, only for Albuquerque to quickly reestablish his dominance with three consecutive quickest laps, topped by the only sub-1:10 lap of the day.
He revealed that he ran eight consecutive hours in HPD’s simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, last week in preparation for Long Beach.
“No food, nothing to eat, just covering all that we needed to do,” he said.
“When we were building this car, we definitely tried to put on paper why we were struggling in the past at Long Beach and Sebring,” Albuquerque added. “And we made it right. When you’re looking at your performance, you focus on your weaknesses. I’m just happy the work we all did is paying off. It was a lot of hours.”
Bourdais posted a 1:10.981 lap (99.812 mph) to claim the third qualifying position but was still more than a second behind Albuquerque. He was followed by the two BMW M Hybrid V8s prepared by BMW M Team RLL.
The last time Jack Hawksworth collected a Motul Pole Award in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, it led to a race win. Hawksworth is looking to repeat that scenario in Long Beach this weekend.
The 32-year-old Brit pushed the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 to a Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) track record in qualifying Friday on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street. With a best lap of 1 minute, 17.817 seconds (91.044 mph), Hawksworth eclipsed the previous GTD PRO standard set last year by Jordan Taylor by nearly a quarter-second and will head the five-car class field to the green flag in the 100-minute sprint race.
“Really happy with that,” said Hawksworth, who was the second-fastest overall GT qualifier to Sorensen in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3. “The boys have done a mega job the last couple of days. We kind of struggled at this track in the past but the car’s been on rails ever since we got here.”
Hawksworth earned his ninth career WeatherTech Championship pole position and first at Long Beach. His last pole came in the 2022 season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, where he and co-drivers Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood went on to win the race, completing a four-race stretch to close the season where they won twice and finished third twice.
They’ve carried that momentum into 2023, placing third in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and second at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Hawksworth believes he and Barnicoat are positioned to take that next step to the top of the podium Saturday after realizing the improvements in the Lexus from past Long Beach visits.
“It was really good to come back here and see the work that the guys have done,” he said. “We really concentrated on trying to extract performance from the car, and the minute we rolled off the truck, the car fit in the window.
“We did a lot of race running today (in practice) and we felt really good in terms of consistency and (tire) degradation,” Hawksworth added. “We feel good about tomorrow, but you just never know until you go racing, right? But we’re in good shape.”
Defending race winner Ross Gunn qualified second in GTD PRO at 1:17.958 (90.879 mph) in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 ahead of third-place qualifier Patrick Pilet in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), who posted a best lap of 1:18.083 (90.734 mph). Pilet and co-driver Klaus Bachler are going for their second consecutive victory after winning last month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Marco Sorensen set the bar pretty high for his first qualifying attempt on the streets of Long Beach, and his first street circuit qualifying in a Grand Touring car.
The Dane took the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to a new outright GTD category record lap of 1 minute 17.811 seconds (91.051 mph), to put a GT Daytona (GTD) class car at the front of all 20 GT cars. This is Sorensen’s first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship pole position.
Sorensen was one of three who beat the previous GTD PRO mark of 1 minute 18.048 seconds (90.774 mph) set by Jordan Taylor, and one of four who eclipsed the previous GTD mark of 1 minute 18.487 seconds (90.267 mph) set by Madison Snow. Both of those were set last year.
“To be honest, with it being the first time for me here in Long Beach, I’m a bit surprised we pulled this off,” said Sorensen, who shares the No. 27 Aston Martin with Roman De Angelis. “I really enjoy street circuits. They get adrenaline going again in the system and it’s so good to get the pole.”
Frankie Montecalvo (No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3), Snow (No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3) and Mike Skeen (No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3) also beat Snow’s 2022 pole mark in Friday’s qualifying session and will start second through fourth in the 15-car GTD class field.
The 15-minute qualifying session came to an early end with a red flag within the final minute for separate incidents at Turn 8. Ashton Harrison (No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura NSX GT3) and PJ Hyett (No. 80 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)) both hit the concrete retaining wall exiting the corner, although both drivers got out of their cars.
The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach airs live from 5-7 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network, Peacock and IMSA Radio.