Ricky Taylor Delivers Long Beach Pole

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Ricky Taylor will start from the pole for Saturday's TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event in Long Beach, Calif. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ricky Taylor will start from the pole for Saturday's TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event in Long Beach, Calif. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ricky Taylor will start from the pole for Saturday’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event in Long Beach, Calif. (Al Steinberg Photo)

LONG BEACH, Calif. – TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Prototype qualifying became a mano a mano street fight Friday in Long Beach, as young charger Ricky Taylor and seasoned veteran Scott Pruett exchanged the top position four times in the latter stages of the 15-minute session.

In the end, youth trumped experience and Taylor prevailed to capture the TOTAL Pole Award for Saturday’s Tequila Patrón Sports Car Showcase. Taylor ran a fast lap of one minute, 14.790 seconds (94.729 mph) to capture his first TUDOR Championship pole in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP owned by his father, Wayne, and co-driven by his brother, Jordan.

Taylor took the top spot from Christian Fittipaldi early in the 15-minute session and backed it up by bettering Pruett’s existing track record. Pruett responded with a new mark, and the pair went back and forth during the final five minutes.

“It’s really cool to fight with someone like Scott,” Taylor said. “It’s been a long time since I won a pole. I ran a good lap and didn’t want to take any chances. But all of a sudden, he went quicker than me, it was a shock to my system. I was able to match him and get my fastest lap at the end. The car got better and better and better throughout the session as the fuel burned off. This bodes well for the race.”

“I didn’t expect it to be that close, but Pruett was on it,” Wayne Taylor said. “This was great for the team. It’s been 17 races since we’ve won a pole, and Ricky hadn’t won one in the long time. He really needed a pole and he came through today.”

Pruett ended up second with a best lap of 1:15.048 (94.404 mph) on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course in the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley co-driven by fellow Sacramento-area driver Joey Hand.

“You’re never happy with second,” Pruett said. “It was exciting, being able to fight it out like that in qualifying. When we’re just so close to being on pole, it’s a bit nerve wracking. I think the car is really good, so we’ll just fine-tune it tonight and see what we have for tomorrow.”

Fittipaldi will start third after running 1:15.274 (94.120 mph) in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa. He will be joined on the second row by Michael Valiante, who ran 1:15.553 (93.773 mph) in the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP co-driven by Richard Westbrook. Eric Curran completed the top five with a lap of 1:15.915 (93.325 mph) in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP he shares with Action Express teammate Dane Cameron.

Using the downtown Long Beach city streets he calls home to his advantage, Bill Auberlen scored the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class pole for Saturday’s main event with a lap of 1:17.268 seconds (91.691 mph) in the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Z4 GTLM. It was Auberlen’s first TUDOR Championship pole, making him the 14th different GTLM class pole winner in 14 races, dating back to the series’ inaugural event – the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona

“People say the words Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans…this is my crown jewel,” said Auberlen, who is second on the all-time North American endurance sports car racing wins list with 53 victories, including an American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón GT class victory at Long Beach in 2013. “This is in front of my family and friends and it makes it all the more special. I’ve been in this race a lot; I’ve been second a ton of times, I’ve been third tons of times. It’s a very difficult one to win.”

Yet to win in TUDOR Championship GTLM competition, BMW swept the front row for the 100-minute sprint race with John Edwards second in the No. 24 IHG Rewards Club BMW Z4 GTLM at 1:17.516 (91.398 mph), 0.248 seconds behind his teammate.