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Bergmeister wins poll spot for Rolex 24 at Daytona

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jorg Bergmeister was just about to end his qualifying run when crewmembers told him to stay out for one more lap.

It turned out to be a great call.

Bergmeister's final lap Thursday was his fastest, earning him the pole in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He'll lead the field to the green flag in the grueling and prestigious 24-hour race Saturday.

"I honestly didn't expect it," Bergmeister said. "I was about to come in and they told me, 'OK, try again.' And I went for it and didn't really care too much what was going to happen with the car and it worked out."

He covered the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in 1 minute, 40.099 seconds and edged Max Angelelli in the DP class. Angelelli (1:40.133) will start second, following by Scott Pruett, Ryan Dalziel and Scott Dixon.

Open-wheel standouts Pruett and Dixon are still the favorites, though. They drive star-studded entries for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Pruett is teamed with Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand. Pruett and Rojas teamed to win nine of 12 Grand-Am races last year and win the championship. Dixon, meanwhile, is teamed with Dario Franchitti and NASCAR stars Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya.

The 18-car field includes several other NASCAR drivers, including five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Alex Gurney qualified 10th in the entry shared with Jon Fogarty and Johnson.

NASCAR's AJ Allmendinger qualified eighth and will share seat time with Michael McDowell and Justin Wilson.

Most of the drivers raved about the newly repaved superspeedway, saying it should make for a considerably smoother endurance race.

"You can go anywhere you want anytime you want," Angelelli said. "Last year was difficult to stay down and was very bumpy throughout the race. You're in the car for 24 hours, so you had a lot to avoid. This year is beautiful and it's a lot easier all around."

Andy Lally claimed the pole in the GT class with a fast lap of 1:48.487. But his car failed inspection because its wing was placed too far back, moving teammate Dominik Fambacher into the top starting spot. Lally will start from the back of the 32-car field.

"That lap was a dream lap," Lally said before his car failed inspection. "I caught a whiff of a draft of somebody going down the (backstretch) and it was just enough to give us what we needed here. I knew Dom was going to be real close with us.

"I predicted he was going to be my biggest competition here for this one. it just says a lot about the whole TRG organization just to take the whole front row."

Jordan Taylor qualified third, followed by Craig Stanton and Nick Tandy. NASCAR driver and road-course specialist Boris Said was ninth, and actor Patrick Dempsey's cars were 15th and 19th.

Dempsey, the "Grey's Anatomy" star, will drive one of his entries with Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster and Tom Long. Before that, though, Dempsey will be at the Sundance Film Festival for the premier of his new film "Flypaper." He also produced the film.

"It's amazing everything happening on one weekend," said Dempsey, who will practice Friday morning before flying to Park City, Utah.