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Mikhail Aleshin pours it on to win Rolex 24 Hours pole in rain

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 29, 2016 at 1:07 AM
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Driving a new Prototype developed and built in his native Russia, IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin won the top starting spot for the Rolex 24 at Daytona with the ninth fastest time of Thursday's qualifying sessions on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course.

Englishman Nick Tandy had the fastest lap, leading a Porsche sweep of the top two starting spots in the highly competitive GTLM Class, touring the course at 105.561 mph and edging fellow Porsche North America team car driver Frederic Makowiecki for the top starting spot in the prestigious endurance race, which starts at 2:40 p.m. ET Saturday (on FS1).

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On a rain-drenched afternoon, Tandy posted his lap on Michelin tires before conditions deteriorated even further. Accordingly, the GTLM cars were appreciably faster than the Prototype and Prototype Challenge entries.

"It was a funny situation because we're driving different tires (Continental) from the GTs," said Aleshin, whose fastest clocking in the No. 37 Nissan-powered Russian BR01 was 101.882 mph. "At the end of the session, track conditions became worse. ...

"On my fastest lap, I almost hit the wall a couple times, but surprising to myself as well, I stayed on the track and managed to continue the lap, which put me on the pole."

Aleshin, whose co-drivers are Maurizio Mediani, Nicolas Minassian and Kirill Ladygin, will lead the field to green on Saturday afternoon under a starting order that features Prototypes first, then Prototype Challenge, GTLM and GTD classes.

Luis Filipe Derani was the second fastest qualifier in Prototypes, with Oswaldi Negri third in the No. 60 Honda-powered Ligier JS P2. Negri is teaming with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger, John Pew and Olivier Pla. All but Pla were part of the 2012 overall winning team, which included the late Justin Wilson.

The defending Rolex 24 winners -- NASCAR drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson and IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan -- had an adventurous qualifying session that included an off-course excursion at the entrance to Turn 1.

With Dixon behind the wheel, the No. 02 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entry was seventh fastest among the Prototypes and 32nd overall.

Johnny Mowlem led the PC Class at 101.951 mph. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Brendan Gaughan was a late addition to the No. 20 ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet team, which includes Tomy Drissi, Marc Drumwright and Ricardo Vera.

Mowlem's ORECA FLM 09 was eighth overall and, surprisingly, faster than any of the entries in the Prototype Class.

Driving the No. 911 Porsche North America 911 RSR, Tandy put down the lap of the day.

"When we went out under green, there was only time for one flying lap," Tandy said. "I understood that early, so I made some space. It was always good to be following some cars in front because they take away some water in front of you.

"But the pressure was on all of us to not go off but still do a time to be in front of the GTD group. The risk of going off versus the reward of being further up the grid was quite high. So, yes, it was a very good result."

Norbert Siedler of Austria was fastest in the GTD Class with a lap at 101.878 mph in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche GT3 R.

In IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge qualifying, Hugh Plumb put the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing GS Class Porsche 997 he shares with brother Matt Plumb on the pole for Friday's BMW Performance 200 (1:45 p.m. ET), running 96.730 mph on his sixth lap of the session.

Elliott Skeer made a pole-winning run in the ST Class No. 8 Rebel Rock Racing Porsche Cayman he shares with Scotsman Robin Liddell, posting his best lap at 93.316 mph.

The Ford GT entries struggled in the wet in their return to competitive racing in the GTLM Class. Joey Hand was ninth fastest in the class (15th overall) in the No. 66. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe was 10th in the class and 25th overall in the No. 67.

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