Guy Smith claimed a surprise American Le Mans Series pole position for the Dyson Racing team at Virginia International Racew, while BMW's Maxime Martin headed a truncated GT qualifying session.
Smith's effort denied champion Muscle Milk Pickett Racing a sixth straight pole position, as Klaus Graf tried in vain to get his HPD ahead of the Lola-Mazda at the top of the times.
But Briton Smith's benchmark, a 1m35.965s, proved too much for Graf, who returned to the pits with more than a minute on the clock after a big moment on his final flying lap trying to overturn the 0.2sec deficit.
“I knew it was going to be pretty close, but that's what makes it so interesting,” said Smith, who took his eighth career ALMS pole. “Klaus and Lucas are absolutely first-class drivers, and to beat them, you really need to be on your game. It's great to be on the pole position, but tomorrow's another day. We've got to sit down and plan to see how we can beat them in the race. It's been a pretty tough year for Dyson Racing, and this will be my last ALMS race, so I want to go out with a good one.”
In the fight for LMP2 pole, Ryan Briscoe headed a Level 5 1-2, with points leader Marino Franchitti half a second slower in the second HPD.
“For me, this is one of the most exciting tracks to qualify at, because there are really high speeds and you can go quick with the downforce,” Briscoe said. “My job is really simple tomorrow – I get in for Scott (Tucker) and drive it home for the win.”
Title challenger Scott Sharp's weekend start with difficulty, as he made an error on his out-lap, clipping the tire wall on the exit of the Hog Pen and requiring repairs to his Extreme Speed machine. He was able to get back out, but could only manage 10th.
LMPC title rivals Michael Guasch and Jonathan Bennett left it to their out-of-the-picture teammates to scrap it out in qualifying.
Guasch's PR1/Mathiasen partner Dane Cameron edged CORE's Tom Kimber-Smith after an epic fight for the class pole that had both drivers take turns at the head of the field.
BMW ON TOP IN GT
Martin claimed the second pole of his debut ALMS season in the lead BMW Z4. He usurped Matteo Malucelli's Risi Ferrari 458 at the head of the times with his fourth lap, and was the only driver to get below 1m46s.
“It's for sure a great pole position for me,” Martin said. “This is the first time for me at the track; my first time every track in the U.S. It's not always easy. I'm really happy for the team and working with my teammate, Bill Auberlen. He's teaching me a lot, and getting me up to speed very quickly. Third pole of the team, third pole for the 55, third different driver. We know tomorrow it will be difficult, we are slower in a straight line with our engine power, but the team is working out a good strategy so I hope to bring it home.”
It was a strong session for BMW, with Dirk Muller third fastest, while Chevrolet's joint-points leader Jan Magnussen could only manage eighth.
Any chance of the No. 3 Corvette making a late improvement was ended when Malucelli caused the session to be cut short with a few minutes remaining.
His 458 dropped fluid at the Hog Pen, causing Tommy Milner to crash in the No. 4 Corvette and also Kuno Wittmer to spin his SRT Viper. That led to the Ferrari's best time being deleted, though Malucelli's second-best effort was still good enough to split the two BMWs.
TRG's Damien Faulkner was quickest of the GTC runners, ending the session 0.4sec clear despite an off-track excursion just after posting his fastest time. Jeroen Bleekemolen pipped Spencer Pumpelly to second.