Forty-five years after his father won the first sportscar race at Daytona International Speedway, Alex Gurney took pole position for the Grand-Am season-opener at the same venue.

Gurney Jr set a blistering pace to claim top spot in qualifying for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but had to battle potential polesitters throughout the 15-minute timed session. Top spot changed hands several times before Gurney emerged at the top of the list with a lap at 1min 43.475secs in the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Riley-Pontiac Riley he shares with Jon Fogarty Jimmy Vasser and team owner Stallings.

"This is a big thrill, for me personally and for the team," Gurney said, "There's so many stars in this race, great cars and great drivers, I feel like I've come a long way to be able to be here.

"I'm happy for the team, who've put a lot of effort into their work to make this pole possible. It would be awesome to follow this up with a win - [the Rolex 24] is the crown jewel of the series, but qualifying really doesn't matter that much, it's really just for bragging rights. We'll be happy with it for a day or so but, beyond that, we've got to run 24 straight hours before we can win."

Gurney's lap was more than half a second quicker than the previous Daytona Prototype track record, and had to be to hold off the ever-present #10 SunTrust Riley-Pontiac of former racewinner and series champion Max Angelelli. The Italian posted his best lap at 1min 43.480secs, but agreed with Gurney that qualifying position counted for little in a 24-hour race.

"It's going to be very nice to start on the front row, - the pictures on the posters before next year's race will look so nice!" he joked, "Other than that, the pole in a 24-hour race doesn't mean a lot. If you remember last year, I started last - dead last - and I was in second position when I got out of the car after my first stint. But then we crashed [during the fourth hour] and that was the end of the race for us.

"We learned a lot from last year that continues to help us in our preparation. Once it starts, it's just a matter of staying on the track, making no mistakes, driving an easy pace and staying on the lead lap until the sun comes up on Sunday. That's when the real racing begins."

Marc Goossens qualified third for the Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports team that split away from SunTrust at the end of last season. The Belgian posted a lap of 1min 43.516secs in the #91 Riley-Pontiac to ensure that the same chassis-engine combination filled the top three spots.

"Everyone keeps saying that it's a 24-hour race and [qualifying] is not important - but I think it is," Goossens said, disagreeing with the front row starters, "You have to be up there from the beginning, especially with the number of cars on track, there are going to be some yellows. You need to be up there constantly and you can't afford to drop back too far. I think it is still important to be in the top-five cars."

David Donohue broke the monopoly at the front of the field, although the second-generation racer was also at the wheel of the ubiquitous Riley chassis. The Porsche-powered #58 Red/Bull entry clocked 1min 43.584secs as the Brumos Racing team seeks a flying start with its nearly-new combination.

Patrick Carpentier completed the top five, pushing the #11 CITGO/SAMAX Riley-Pontiac to a lap at 1min 43.959secs. The Canadian Champ Car/IRL refugee shares the car with two Britons - Ryan Dalziel and Darren Manning - as well as CITGO favourite Milka Duno, one of three women who will compete in this year's Rolex 24.

The top ten all turned laps within one second of Gurney's pole-winning time, although the #05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport Riley-BMW that took sixth spot was later stripped of its time after falling foul of the ride height rules. The Bill Auberlen-led squad will now attempt to requalify in Friday's final session.