The last ALMS pole winner. (LAT photo)
Rebellion Racing will start the final American Le Mans Series race from pole after Neel Jani topped Petit Le Mans qualifying at Road Atlanta.
Chris Dyson beached the Dyson Lola in spectacular fashion when he locked up braking hard for the Turn 10 chicane, bringing out the red flags. The stoppage meant a five-minute shootout for pole and though Lucas Luhr improved to a 1m10.397s for the champion Muscle Milk Pickett HPD squad, Jani lowered his benchmark further, claiming pole with an eventual best of 1m09.254s.
“It's nice to be back racing in America, because we have a fight again with the Muscle Milk team,” said Jani, who captured poles at Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before Rebellion Racing took a sabbatical from the ALMS to concentrate on FIA World Endurance Championship competition. “In qualifying, we have been quicker but we have seen the race is just a different game. With the GTCs and the safety cars, the visibility in our car is difficult, but that just means the race is that much closer. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to turn our quick speed into a win.”
Ryan Briscoe headed the fight for LMP2 pole before the red flag in the No. 551 Level 5 car but David Brabham, driving the No. 01 Extreme Speed entry, appeared to snatched it with a stunning effort after the stoppage.
Briscoe rallied, regaining top spot with a 1m12.490s as Guy Cosmo slotted into third – with Brabham the meat in a Level 5 sandwich – but the poleman suffered an apparent fuel pick-up problem in the session's climax and broke down on-track.
“We cut it very close, and winning the pole gave the team a big lift,” Brabham said. “Level 5 is very strong, we respect that. In race trim, it's going to be a heck of a race. There is a lot at stake with the championship and I'm just happy to be involved. For me, being at the last ALMS race is very emotional. This championship has been a big part of my life and I've had some of my best racing here in the U.S. What I'll miss most are the people, not just the racing.”
Dane Cameron looked as though he would have to settle for second after being usurped from top spot in LMPC by Bruno Junqueira. But the Mathiasen driver squeezed back ahead of his returning rival before extending his advantage with the second of two laps good enough for pole.
“It was very tough qualifying, a lot of back and forth with Bruno,” Cameron said. “We are off to a good start, and we're really looking forward to getting it done tomorrow to get a team championship and a driver championship for Mike.”
Junqueira responded in the wrong way, skating over the Turn 5 gravel and clipping the tire wall right at the end of the session. Briton Tom Kimber-Smith nipped ahead of Kyle Marcelli to claim third.
RISI TOPS GT BATTLE
Matteo Malucelli's Risi Ferrari 458 Italia claimed GT honors in a tight qualifying session in which the top seven cars were covered by just over half a second.
Each of the five manufacturers represented in the series was in the early lead quintet, though the SRT Vipers swiftly put an end to that with Jonathan Bomarito emerged as the main challenger to Malucelli's 1m18.861s benchmark and closed the gap to 0.027 second.
Despite the Ferrari driver returning to the pits with five minutes remaining, Bomarito could not improve further.
“For sure we are in a great position for starting the race, but the race will be more than nine hours, so it's only a starting point,” Malucelli said. “Tomorrow I hope we're in dry conditions. We have a bit of a problem in the rain.”
Marc Goossens brought the second Viper into play in the closing stages of the session, just edging out Antonia Garcia in the first of the Corvettes in the process, but fell a tenth short of his teammate.
Dirk Muller (RLL) and Bryan Sellers (Falken) were the lead BMW and Porsche cars, respectively, in fifth and sixth, just ahead of Oliver Gavin in the second Corvette.
In GTC, Spencer Pumpelly led the session's early running with a benchmark of 1m24.118s set in the opening stages of the session. Andy Lally and Jeroen Bleekemolen gave chase and although the latter found enough time to haul him into second, he could do nothing about Pumpelly in front.
“When you get a pole on a day like today, you really hold it with regard,” Pumpelly said. “This is a home race for me, living in downtown Atlanta, and the last qualifying session for the ALMS. Tomorrow we have a very slim chance at the driver's championship, but we can end up with the team championship so we're going to stay focused and do our best.”
Pos Cl Team/Car Time Cl Gap
1. P1 Heidfeld/Jani/Prost Rebellion Lola-Toyota 1m09.254s
2. P1 Graf/Luhr/Dumas Pickett HPD 1m10.397s +1.143s
3. P2 Sharp/Lazzaro/Brabham Extreme Speed HPD 1m12.668s
4. P2 Tucker/Briscoe/Franchitti Level 5 HPD 1m12.792s +0.124s
5. P2 Cosmo/Kane/Dumbreck Level 5 HPD 1m13.637s +0.969s
6. P2 Brown/van Overbeek/Bell Extreme Speed HPD 1m13.929s +1.261s
7. PC Guasch/Cheng/Cameron PR1 Mathiasen FLM 1m14.955s
8. P1 Dyson/Burgess/McMurry Dyson-Lola 1m14.978s +5.724s
9. PC Junqueira/Ende/Menezes ORECA FLM09 1m15.143s +0.188s
10. PC Bennett/Kimber-Smith/Wilkins CORE FLM 1m15.215s +0.260s
11. PC Marcelli/Cumming/Johansson BAR1 FLM 1m15.367s +0.412s
12. PC Rayhall/Negri 8Star FLM 1m15.399s +0.444s
13. PC Nunez/Shears Performance Tech FLM 1m15.604s +0.649s
14. PC Drissi/Mitchell/French BAR1 FLM 1m16.001s +1.046s
15. P1 Meyrick/Legge DeltaWing 1m16.206s +6.952s
16. GT Beretta/Malucelli/Liddell Risi Ferrari 1m18.861s
17. GT Bomarito/Wittmer/Kendall SRT Viper 1m18.888s +0.027s
18. GT Farnbacher/Goossens/Dalziel SRT Viper 1m19.017s +0.156s
19. GT Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor Corvette 1m19.128s +0.267s
20. GT Müller/Edwards/Auberlen RLL BMW 1m19.228s +0.367s
21. GT Henzler/Sellers/Tandy Falken Porsche 1m19.386s +0.525s
22. GT Gavin/Milner/Westbrook Corvette 1m19.440s +0.579s
23. GT Long/Braun/Christensen CORE Porsche 1m19.947s +1.086s
24. GT Alzen/Martin/Müller RLL BMW 1m19.954s +1.093s
25. GT Miller/Holzer/Collard Miller Porsche 1m20.497s +1.636s
26. GT Sweedler/Keen/Mowlem Ferrari F458 Italia 1m20.506s +1.645s
27. GTC Canache, Jr./Pumpelly/Snow Flying Lizard Porsche 1m24.118s
28. GTC MacNeil/Bleekemolen/Bleekemolen Alex Job Porsche 1m24.433s +0.315s
29. GTC Dempsey/Lally/Foster Dempsey Del Piero Porsche 1m24.480s +0.362s
30. GTC Hedlund/Heylen/Fogarty JDX Porsche 1m24.923s +0.805s
31. GTC Keating/Faulkner/Stanton TRG Porsche 1m24.926s +0.808s
32. GTC Armindo/Nielsen/Benitez, Jr. NGT Porsche 1m25.237s +1.119s
33. GTC Putman/Espenlaub/Law Dempsey Del Piero Porsche 1m25.368s +1.250s
34. GTC Neiman/von Moltke/Sandberg Flying Lizard Porsche 1m28.039s +3.921s