ALTON Va. — Joey Hand threw everything he had at his last lap of qualifying Saturday for Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia Int’l Raceway.
“I told (the team) coming down the hill on the last lap, if this doesn’t do it I don’t know what will,” said the driver of the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. “I got everything I could out of it.”
Hand’s best time in the 15-minute qualifying session under perfect weather conditions was 1 minute, 40.211 seconds (117.472 mph), breaking Jan Magnussen’s year-old GTLM track record of 1:41.557 by more than a second. On Sunday, Hand and co-driver Dirk Mueller – who also qualified on pole for the most-recent WeatherTech Championship race at Road America earlier this month – will go for their second consecutive GTLM victory.
“Just like Road America, we rolled out of the trailer so good here,” Hand said. “We haven’t touched a lot. We did a few laps and Dirk and I said ‘Let’s put it away. We’ll take it like that, just put some new tires on it and some fuel and just go.’
“We’re really excited. Dirk’s done such a great job setting it up, he was on the pole at Road America and it’s a great way to start. I told him at RA I’m super comfy, I told him here I’m super comfy. I think good things can happen here.”
If good things do happen for the No. 66 team on Sunday, it’ll go a long way in the battle for the GTLM championship battle. Hand and Mueller currently trail points co-leaders Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia – the defending winners of the Michelin GT Challenge – by eight points, 239-231. Including Sunday’s race, there are three rounds left on the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season. Magnussen qualified the No. 3 Corvette sixth.
Second and third on the GTLM grid went to BMW Team RLL teammates. Alexander Sims qualified second with a best lap of 1:40.415 (117.233 mph) in the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM he co-drives with Bill Auberlen. Sims and Auberlen are in the championship mix as well, just one point behind Mueller and Hand.
John Edwards qualified third in the No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM at 1:40.441 (117.203 mph). Edwards’ co-driver is Martin Tomczyk.
Giancarlo Fisichella – who won at VIR in 2014 – qualified fourth in the Risi Competizione team’s return to WeatherTech Championship competition after a brief hiatus. Fisichella’s best time in the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE was 1:40.606 (117.010 mph). Oliver Gavin rounded out the top five with a best lap of 1:40.758 (116.834 mph) in the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.
A trio of drivers in the GT Daytona class — from three different manufacturers — battled for the class pole.
At the end of the 15-minute session, the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Jeroen Mul topped the charts with a lap of 1 minute, 43.391 seconds (117.472 mph). Mul, the BMW of Jesse Krohn and the Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen each swapped the top spot throughout the session with Mul eventually setting the fastest lap in the final minute.
It was the second consecutive TOTAL Pole Award for Mul and the Change Racing team.
“I have to say that the team has done such a good job preparing the car this weekend,” said Mul, who also was fastest in each of the three WeatherTech Championship practice sessions of the weekend. “So, this back to back pole is very much deserving for this Change Racing team. We’re super excited to be able to do this for our home crowd.”
The No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 of Krohn qualified second at 1:43.621 (113.606).
Andrew Davis jumped into the top three on his final lap of the session in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS with a lap 1:43.770, moving Bleekemolen to fourth in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.