Daytona Beach: Ryan Dalziel`s qualifying performance was somewhat surprising. He knew his car was fast, but given that the team had just two weeks to tune it and then failed to turn a lap in the first practice session because of engine failure, sitting on the pole was hardly expected.
Nonetheless, Dalziel bested Max Angelelli, Chip Ganassi`s two-car powerhouse team and IndyCar regular Ryan Hunter-Reay on the road course at Daytona International Speedway.
Dalziel turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 41.119 seconds in Thursday`s qualifying session. He will lead the field to the green flag for the 50th running of the around-the-clock event. The race begins Saturday and ends Sunday.
"To get the pole is very rewarding, but it`s a long race," said Dalziel, who drives for Starworks Motorsport. "The pole doesn`t mean too much. It proves to us that we have a fast car, but we already knew we had a reliable car and had a great crew."
Angelelli will be on the outside pole. Scott Dixon will start third in one of Ganassi`s two entries.
Ganassi`s other car, the one driven primarily by two-time defending series champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, will start near the back of the class. The car blew an engine in practice and failed to make a qualifying lap in the DP class.
Hunter-Reay qualified ninth after landing a last-minute deal to drive another car for Starworks. It looked as if Hunter-Reay, who had been slated to drive with IndyCar regulars Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso, would miss the event after funding fell through. But team owner Peter Baron asked Hunter-Reay to step into another ride.
Andrew Davis topped qualifying in the GT class, edging Jeff Segal and NASCAR rookie of the year Andy Lally.
The GT class could have as many as 46 cars in the starting lineup. The DP class is considerably smaller at 14, and Dalziel believes his team can compete with anyone.
Dalziel gained confidence last September when he and teammate Enzo Potolicchio won the Grand-Am finale in Lexington, Ohio, giving Starworks Motorsport its third victory in seven seasons.
"Last year, we deserved to get more results than we did," Dalziel said. "I think sometimes the underdogs are not expected to beat the powerhouse teams. But what`s happened with Starworks the past four or five months is we`ve tried to create a powerhouse team. I think we`ve hired all the right people and put together an unbelievable car.”
"I think the (No. 8) car is going to be a contender not only this weekend, but it`s going to be a contender for every race this year. I don`t think we have a weak link in our chain. I really am pretty excited about this."
Starworks got the new Ford Riley chassis in December, had the body fitted in January and only got an hour of seat time before qualifying.
"I think everybody`s a little bit unsure what to expect at this point," Dalziel said. "I`m sure we`re going to find out pretty quickly when we get started here. It`ll be interesting to see if everybody really did run flat out."
Angelelli, who has finished second in the series the past two years, was disappointed with his qualifying effort.
"I wasn`t expecting ending in P2," he said. "I still feel our car is really good, is really fast. I still feel for the 24 hour, we`ll be the car to beat."
Like Dalziel, Angelelli also isn`t sure what to expect with so many new cars making their Grand-Am debut.
"We have no idea what`s going to happen or what could happen," Angelelli said. "We`ve never run longer than one hour and we`re going to have another 23 to go. So I`m expecting issues for everybody. I can`t believe we`ll see cars finishing the race without an issue."