Castroneves Puts Penske On Petit Le Mans Pole

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Helio Castroneves put Team Penske on the pole for the Motul Petit Le Mans. (IMSA Photo)

BRASELTON, Ga. – Team Penske entered this weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta looking to gain valuable experience for its full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship return next season.

It certainly didn’t take long for the organization to get acclimated to IMSA competition, with Helio Castronves scoring the TOTAL Pole Award Friday afternoon in the No. 6 ORECA LM P2. The team is competing with the ORECA this weekend before campaigning a pair of Acura DPi prototypes in 2018.

“It’s not a statement,” said Castronves. “I’ll tell you what, we’re still learning. First of all, thanks to Team Penske for this great opportunity. I can’t obviously forget about my teammates, Simon [Pagenaud] and Juan Pablo [Montoya] because I had a big shunt about a week ago. And man, to bring back that confidence it was a little bit tough, but my guys were able to coach me and make sure we got it.”

Team Penske confirmed Castroneves as the third of the team’s four full-time drivers earlier this week, joining Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron for 2018.

He moved to the top of the charts six minutes into the 15-minute qualifying session, and bested that lap one circuit later with a TOTAL Pole Award-winning lap of one minute, 11.314 seconds (128.221 mph).

The No. 22 Nissan DPi of Pipo Derani qualified second, 0.161 seconds behind Castroneves. It was a strong qualifying session for the Tequila Patrón ESM team with Derani’s No. 22 entry qualifying one spot better than teammate Brendan Hartley in the No. 2 Patrón Nissan DPi.

The Motul Petit Le Mans is the final race of the WeatherTech Championship season, as well as the final round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. The championship-leading Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi team of Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified seventh.

With the Prototype Challenge (PC) championship already clinched, James French and the Performance Tech Motorsports team enters the Motul Petit Le Mans looking to complete a clean sweep this season with eight wins in eight races in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Going for that eighth consecutive win, the team will start from a familiar place with French muscling the No. 38 ORECA FLM09 to his seventh pole in eight races with a lap of one minute, 16.069 seconds (120.206 mph). He will be joined this weekend by full-season co-driver Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson.

“We’re trying to get everything possible out of the car, regardless of who else is with us,” he said. “So we’re just trying to do the best that we can and extract everything possible, and I think we did a pretty good job of that today.”

BAR1 Motorsports rounded out the top three with Garrett Grist qualifying second in the No. 26 ORECA FLM09 and Don Yount third in the No. 20 ORECA FLM09.