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ALMS: Virginia International Raceway, Qualifying Report

It’s been a happy return to the ALMS for Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith.  He followed up a strong showing in all previous practice sessions with an even stronger showing in qualifying.  Right from the drop of the green flag he placed the #16 Lola at the top of the field and never looked back.  Klaus Graf pushed the Muscle Milk HPD to it’s limits, and beyond, in a valiant effort to spoil Smith’s return.  Graf finally, in the waning moments of the session, had to surrender after a heavy dose of curbing unsettled his car so much that the wheels locked under braking producing a huge plume of white smoke.  Smith’s lap of 1:35.965 was the quickest lap of the event thus far and good enough to give Dyson Racing its first pole of the year.

Guy Smith, “I knew this was going to be my last ALMS event, so I really wanted to go out in a good way.  We made a small change before qualifying and it was just enough to get us out in front of the Muscle Milk guys.  This is a great track, and in our car flat out through the esses it’s still just a lot of fun.”

P2 was an equally good battle, albeit between teammates.  Franchitti set the pace early on with Johannes van Overbeek hot on his heels. Their times were both just shy of 1:41 flat.  Two laps later they both improve.  van Overbeek pushes the ESM HPD right to the 1:41 mark, but Franchitti gains a full second and is now at 1:40.3.  The other Level 5 entry gets a later start but now Ryan Briscoe is up to speed. The next time by he knocks off Franchitti with a 1:40.0 lap of his own.  Both Level 5 pilots continue to push and both improve their time on the next lap.  Briscoe would lay down the pole winner on the next lap with a time of 1:39.8.  van Overbeek wasn’t through and was able to get his time into the 1:40’s but still couldn’t match the Level 5 pair.  Scott Sharp in the #01 had early off and contacted the wall.  He limped the car back to the pits for a nose change, but he nose change did not go well and Sharp was never able to put in a proper fast lap. The #01 will start 9th overall, behind three PC cars.

Ryan Briscoe, “That was a great qualifying session, probably the best one of the year.  This is an exciting track to qualify at. The fast corners are exhilarating with the high downforce of our car.  The team has worked really hard on the set-up and the car was the best it has been so far.”

Much like Guy Smith has been the man to beat in P1, so has Dane Cameron been the man in PC. He’s had the PR1 Mathiasen prototype at the front of the class in every session and qualifying would turn out to be no different.  Cameron nearly led from start to finish. Tom Kimber-Smith took the lead for moment, at about the half-way point, only to see Cameron improve his time again and steal it back.  Cameron’s best time was 1:41.854 and he was the only PC to eclipse the 1:42 mark.  Marcelli and Nunez battled for the 3rd spot with Marcelli finally coming out ahead.

Dane Cameron, “The car has just been really good all day.  The team has done a great job and it’s just been easy to drive.  I think it’s going to be a really good car for the race.”

GT qualifying, as usual was a bit more complicated.  The session started out well enough, as Malucelli in the Risi Ferrari jumped out in front with Martin in the #55 BMW and Holzer in the #48 Porsche in tow.  Long in the CORE Porsche was also looking pretty quick and was also flirting with the top group. By the 3rd lap Muller in the other BMW took over P1 bumping Malucelli and Martin back a spot each. At this point everyone was on track and turning up the heat.  The Corvettes and Vipers both were improving lap-times and pecking their way up the order. But it was becoming apparent that this was going to be a BMW vs Ferrari battle unless the others made some serious moves. Malucelli improved his time to regain the top spot, displacing Muller, but that was short lived as Martin jumped them both with a lap of 1:45.978. Trying to respond to Martin’s volley, Malucelli pushes his Ferrari over the curbs causing the car to bottom out violently.  The impact apparently dislodged or broke an oil line, which coated the racing surface with hot gear oil.  At this point, well into the session, everyone was in full attack mode.  The first one to find the freshly oiled track was an unsuspecting Tom Milner aboard the #4 Corvette.  Milner had just dialed in a little more front brake bias in preparation for his hot lap.  The car locked the wheels as soon as it hit the oil and sent Milner sailing into the tire barriers.  The left front was damaged, but still drive-able enough for a limp back into the pits. The yellow Viper found the slick spot next and spun a complete 360’ but didn’t make contact with anything.  This was enough for race control to throw the red flag ending the session.

Matteo Malucelli, “I was held up just for a few tenths of a second by one of the Vipers on what I think would have been my fastest lap.  But that’s okay; we only missed pole by I think two tenths of a second.  That shows we have a very good race car. There was lots of dirt and grass on the track, from people going off, but that’s pretty typical for the American tracks.”

Dominik Farnbacher, “Our Viper is very consistent, which is good for the race.  But maybe not the best for getting pole.  We have really concentrated on setting up a well balanced and consistent car.  At this track in particular we were struggling with rear tire wear, so we worked on set-up more than ultimate speed.”

This would be the 3rd consecutive class pole for the #55 car of BMW Team RLL, but the first one for Maxime Martin.  Martin’s pole winning lap also set a new GT qualifying record here at VIR.

Maxime Martin, “It’s very satisfying to win my first ALMS pole position. I think all my co-drivers have scored a pole this season so I’m please that I could finally do the same. It’s never easy for me in ALMS because I have to learn each track we visit, and we don’t get much free practice time at any of them. I have to thank my teammate, Bill Auberlen, for teaching me the tricks to get around this track quickly.”

The GTC class kicked off the qualifying sessions for the Oak Tree Grand Prix, and it was Jeroen Bleekemolen in the AJR Porsche leading the way.  Bleekemolen was tailed by TRG’s Faulkner and NGT’s Edwards. On the fourth lap Pumpelly in the Lizard car showed his pace and jumped into the top spot.  Almost immediately though, Faulkner improved his time again and put the TRG entry out front.  Faulkner’s lap time of 1:52.213 was the quickest GTC lap of day. Bleekemolen was pushing extremely hard, using every bit of the track and curbs to wring a bit more speed out of his 911, and was able to best Pumpelly’s time but not Faulkner’s.  Braking troubles continued for he Dempsey Porsche. Another 4-wheel lockup sent the cars spinning off course, this time with Andy Lally aboard.  His off didn’t stop the session but it dusted up the track enough to thwart any real chances of another super fast lap.  Faulkner’s fast lap stood and TRG claimed their second pole position in a row.  Faulkner also won pole here last season.

Damien Faulkner, “The was pretty good in our first session this morning.  We made some changes for the next session it the car was awful.  So we went straight back to the paddock for a frantic change back to our original set-up.  The crew did a great job and the car was perfect.”

Jeroen Bleekemolen, “We were just too consistent, which I know sounds strange.  But these tires are very peaky, and to get that ultimate qualifying lap you have to hit the peak just right.  I think that what Damien was able to do. He was really on it right as the tire peaked. If you can find that peak at the right time, it’s pretty easy to do a fast lap.”

Russell Wittenberg