Wayne Taylor Racing beats Team Penske for pole at Rolex

Renger Van Der Zande, left, of the Netherlands, gets hug from team owner Wayne Taylor after qualifying for the pole position in the IMSA 24-hour auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Wayne Taylor Racing will attempt to defend its Rolex 24 at Daytona title by starting from the pole in Saturday's endurance race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Wayne Taylor had a big decision to make when his son left his race team to drive for Roger Penske.

He needed a replacement for Ricky Taylor who has an aggressive driving style that matched that of his oldest son and complemented co-driver Jordan Taylor.

Wayne Taylor Racing selected Dutch driver Renger van der Zande with full confidence he could help the team repeat its success from last year when the organization won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the IMSA championship. He proved to be the right choice Thursday after van der Zande put the No. 10 Cadillac on the pole at Daytona International Speedway.

"These guys, they expect a lot from you," van der Zande said of his new team. "I can only thank Wayne Taylor that he chose me as a teammate for Jordan. Being here feels incredible and I didn't expect to grab this pole. I was over the moon, I can tell you that."

The lap at 1 minute, 36.083 seconds gives Wayne Taylor Racing drivers van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay the top starting spot in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race that begins Saturday afternoon. It was also good enough to beat the Team Penske organization that Ricky Taylor joined.

"We didn't think pole was within our grasp," Wayne Taylor admitted. "Somebody asked me if Renger is going to be faster, and I said, 'All I have to do is ask Jordan what he thinks.' And he (Jordan) said, 'He's quick.' And he was right. It's nice to be on the pole, but it only counts on Sunday."

The team celebrated atop the podium last year and collected Rolex watches for Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor and endurance race addition Jeff Gordon. Now the lineup has had a complete makeover, but the team is chasing the same results.

It's a thrill for van der Zande, who only moved to the prototype class last season and then got picked to join Taylor's championship-winning team.

Helio Castroneves got the qualifying nod over Ricky Taylor, and thought he had the pole after a lap at 1:36.090. He was sitting inside his Acura on pit road watching van der Zande's lap when he saw he'd been beat and dropped his head in dejection.

"To be snatching that pole is just a bit of luck," van der Zande said. "It's all new. You try your best and we made quite a bit of changes before qualifying. This team knows what it takes. For me, I just try. But this has given such a boost for my confidence, and the team, they placed a guy in there for qualifying who can do the job. It's a really nice moment for all of us."

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso qualified 13th out of 17 prototype cars. Alonso is making his debut in major sports car racing and team owner Zak Brown has cautioned that Alonso's Ligier LMP2 doesn't have the same speed as the Cadillacs or Acuras.

"This was the least important qualifying of my life," Alonso said. "On Saturday we have 24 hours. The qualifying was not the key part of the weekend."

Jan Magnussen led Corvette Racing to the pole in the GT Le Mans class by edging Joey Hand of Chip Ganassi Racing. Daniel Serra drove a Ferrari from Spirit of Race to the GT Daytona pole. He bettered Risi Competizione, another Ferrari program.

___

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

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