Daytona 24: Suntrust and Mazda Dominate Qualifying

The Action Express Racing Porsche Riley qualified 8th

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Max Angelelli prevailed in a back-and-forth battle to capture the pole Thursday for the 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona (complete qualifying results), to be held Saturday at the "World Center of Racing."

Angelelli secured the top position for the opening round of the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 with a lap of 1:40.827 (127.108 mph) in the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara.

Jeff Segal won the GT class pole with a track record lap, as both he and Jordan Taylor edged Segal's teammate Sylvain Tremblay for the top position on the final lap to give Mazda a 1-2-3 qualifying sweep. Thursday's qualifying set the top 13 positions in Daytona Prototype plus the top 20 positions in GT.

The Rolex 24 takes the green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Live SPEED coverage is set for 3 -10 p.m. ET, and resumes Sunday from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. ET.

The main drama of the day came in the opening practice session, when four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was unhurt in an incident that badly damaged the championship-winning No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley. While the team planned on sending to its Texas shop for a backup car, it was determined that the car could be fixed in time to be ready for the race.

"I put myself in a position with a GT car that I shouldn't have and paid the price," Johnson said. "I hate it that I tore up equipment and put the guys in this spot. It looks like we will get this fixed and hopefully everything will be good for tomorrow."

Lucas Luhr and Martin Ragginger also escaped injuries in morning session incidents, with their contending race cars expected to be ready to race following extensive repairs.

Angelelli earned his fourth career pole in the Rolex Series, in the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara co-driven by Wayne Taylor, Ricky Taylor and Pedro Lamy.

"Winning the pole was really important for the team, after the disappointment of losing last year's championship in the final race," Angelelli said. "It was good for team morale. We really wanted it."

Angelelli was fastest in a three-day practice session earlier in January, after which he said all the team needed to do was "wash the car" to be ready for the Rolex 24.

"The car is great," Angelelli said. "It's really easy to drive. It's fast. We have everything in place, and we're really looking forward to the race to get a good result. Now it's up to us as drivers to make it happen. The SunTrust car is just fast - unbelievable."

The next four cars were separated by .064 of a second. Ozz Negri will start from the outside of row one after running 1:41.100 (126.765 mph), in the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford Riley, edging out Michael Shank Racing teammate Michael Valiante's 1:41.110 (126.755 mph) in the No. 6 Ford Riley.

"My car was still getting better late in the session," said Negri, who won the pole for the 2008 Rolex 24 in the same car. "My tires were finally where I wanted them to be on the final lap. Who knows what would have happened if I had another lap, but I am very happy being on the front row."

Valiante led both of Saturday's practice sessions but slipped to third after running up front early in the 15-minute qualifying round.

"We've been quick all weekend and at the test, but we missed it by just a little bit in qualifying," Valiante said. "I think we've got a real good car for the race, and that's what's important here."

The TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates cars qualified fourth and fifth. Scott Dixon ran a lap of 1:41.147 (126.766 mph) in the No. 02 BMW Riley, followed by the No. 01 BMW Riley of Scott Pruett, 1:41.164 (126.685 mph).

"It was close," Pruett said. "The quality of these cars and drivers is just phenomenal. It shows in qualifying. The cars were so unbelievably close it was incredible. I see that for the race, too. I see it going down to the absolute finish, just like last year."

Rounding out the top 10 qualifiers were Christophe Bouchut in the No. 55 Crown Royal/NPN Racing BMW Riley, Darren Law in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley, Joao Barbosa in the No. 9 Action Express Porsche Riley, Ricardo Zonta in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Proto-Auto Ford Lola, and Buddy Rice in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote.

The Mazda contingent dominated qualifying

Mazdas 1-2-3 in GT Qualifying

A year ago, Sylvain Tremblay won the GT pole for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in dramatic fashion, running a track-record lap on his final lap of qualifying.

Thursday, he lost the pole in similar fashion. Jeff Segal broke his teammate's record with a lap of 1:49.282 (117.275 mph) in SpeedSource's No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8 to take the top spot at the checkered flag.

"I think it's a testament to the SpeedSource team how close the cars are," Segal said. "They build the cars from scratch. It was remarkable to see the car go from nothing over the winter to what it is today, and how close the cars are matched. It speaks volumes about SpeedSource."

Also passing Tremblay on the last lap was Taylor - who just missed joining his father Wayne and brother Ricky on the front row after running a lap of 1:49.371 (117.179 mph) in Racers Edge Motorsports' No. 30 Cobalt Friction/IDEMITSU Mazda RX-8.

"I pushed a lot harder on my last lap to try to pick up a few tenths," said Taylor, a freshman at the University of Central Florida who was qualifying for the first time in a Rolex Series event. "I picked up some time in the bus stop, and that did it. I'm happy with the front row start."

Tremblay ran 1:49.462 (117.082 mph) in Speedsource's No. 70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8, the GT winner in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"The team won the pole on the last lap - again," Tremblay said. "As a driver, I ended up third. I had nobody to work with at the end, which was fine. I'm really proud of the No. 69 car winning the pole. It's one shop, one goal, and to have Mazdas 1-2-3 at Daytona is really special."

Paul Edwards qualified fourth in the debut race for the No. 07 Godstone Ranch Motorsports Corvette, 1:49.474 (117.069 mph), followed by Andy Lally in the No. 66 TRG AXA Porsche GT3, 1:49.637 (116.895 mph).

Friday's schedule opens with practice from 9-9:45 a.m. ET, followed by final qualifying at 11 a.m. ET. Qualifying will be followed by the Fresh From Florida 200, the opening round of the 2010 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, at 1:45 p.m. ET.

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