BRASELTON, Georgia—Petit Le Mans is the season finale for the American Le Mans Series, but it was the visiting European teams which topped qualifying in the fastest two classes.
Neel Jani put the #12 LMP1 Rebellion Lola Toyota he shares with Andrea Bellichi and Nicolas Prost on the pole with a lap of 1:09.089 at 132.351 mph, edging out the fastest ALMS P1 team, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, by .34 seconds.
Guy Smith in the #16 Dyson Lola-Mazda hybrid qualified 1.09 seconds off the pace, while the team car, the #20 non-hybrid Lola-Mazda driven by Grand Am ace Mark Patterson, finished 2.72 seconds down.
“We very much enjoy racing here. We like the American tracks,” Neel Janni said after qualifying. “They are not very forgiving if you go off. Also, the atmosphere, look around the track, all the spectators and the camping going on. It’s a big party which makes us enjoy racing around even that much more.
We came here with one target, win Petit Le Mans. We know qualifying is just a very small thing; the race is a totally different game. We won’t interfere with direct contact with the other cars, we’ll just run our own race. We want to win, that was why we came over here.”
Rebellion wants to win the race, while the fastest ALMS P1 entries are fighting for the class championship. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr, and Romain Dumas will win the title if they can finish 70 percent of the race.
The Muscle Milk team won’t be trundling around trying to dodge traffic; the drivers know they have to establish their normal race rhythm to stay alert and safe. Still, as Lucas Luhr said, at Petit Le Mans theyre are times when one can go for it or not, and the team will likely choose not to more often.
Chris Dyson, Guy Smith, and Steven Kane in the #16 Dyson hybrid cannot win the championship unless the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a fails to finish the requisite amount of the race winner’s total—which is not out of the question, as the Muscle Milk machine has had serious issues several times this season.
Oak Is Mighty in P2
Rebellion is one of the seven European Le Mans Series teams which opted to contest the ten-hour ALMS race. Oak Racing is another. Like Rebellion, Oak was quickest in class; Olivier Pla in the #35 Morgan-Nissan turned in a lap of 1:12.046 to capture the P2 pole, besting Martin Plowman in the #37 Conquest Morgan Nissan by two thousandths of a second.
Fairly inhospitable behavior by guests on both counts, and in Oak’s case, maybe also bad business, as Conquest is the North American distributor for Oak’s Morgan chassis.
“The car felt great,’ said Olivier Pla. “The competition is very close; during the session the lap times were getting quicker and quicker. I set a good time at the end. I hit a fair bit of traffic at the middle of the session.
“The team gave me a good car today, it should be great for the race tomorrow. I love racing in America, it is my third time here. It is very different than what we do in Europe. Tomorrow the competition will be very tough; it will be good for sure.”
As Pla points out, there should be some tremendous battles between the visiting ELMS teams and the ALMS regulars—both top prototype classes promise some of the hardest competition of the season.
The ALMS P2 championship has also not yet been settled and it can also be won if the leading car can reach that magic 70 percent distance. Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut just need to stay out of trouble in their #95 HPD ARX-03b-Honda to take home the crown—but on a track as busy as Road Atlanta, for ten hours of hard racing, that will be no simple task.
Marino Franchitti took third in the #055 Level 5 HPD, .19 seconds behind Plowman. Franchitti, who is co-driving with his brother, four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and Scott Tucker, are out of the points and car go all-out for the win.
Add to this the other three ELMS P2 teams: Greaves, Murphy, and Thiriet, and this is a packed field of very fast cars with nothing to lose and a prestigious win at Petit Le Mans to gain.
Gunnar Jeannette didn’t need to qualify as the Nissan DeltaWing he shares with Lucas Ordonez is running unclassified, but Jeanette still took the car out for seven laps and turned in a time which would have put him sixth in P2—not bad for a car which was barely repaired in time for Lucas Ordonez to get his mandatory night practice.
Marcelli Wins Pole in PC
ALMS dominated LMPC, necessarily, as there were no ELMS entries. The battle for the PC pole was fierce; .84 seconds covered the entire field of six entries, but it was Kyle Marcelli who took the class pole, benefited by a timely electrical failure.
After finishing a pole-winning lap of 1:14.099, Marcelli’s Merchant Services Oreca went leaving in Turn Four. The Canadian driver parked in what he thought was a safe spot, but the marshals waved the red flag anyway, ruining the final flying laps of all the contenders.
“I had just finished my fastest lap of 1:14 flat, and was coming through Turn Four and the Esses when the engine just died,” Marcelli explained.
Marcelli reset the main engine circuit breaker a few times until it held, then fired up the car and drove back to the pits. The track went green, but with 12 seconds left in the session, no one had time to heat up their tires for another shot at the pole.
Colin Braun on the #5 Core Oreca qualified second in class, just five thousandths slower than Marcelli. The entire filed qualified faster than 2010’s pole pace.
GT: Good and Bad Luck fore ESM, Good Times for IMSA Matmut and AJR
GTE initially belonged to the ALMS Ferraris of Extreme Motor Sports; Guy Cosmo and Toni Vilander; Cosmo topped Vilander by five thousandths of a second. Jorg Müller qualified the RLL BMW third in GTE, .24 seconds behind Vilander.
Post-race inspection found that Cosmo’s car didn’t meet the minimum ride height so its time was tossed out, giving the pole to the #1 car of Vilander, Scott Sharp and Johanes van Overbeek. This also elevated Olly Gavin, who won the driver’s title with Tom Milner at the VIR 240 in the #4 Corvette, to third.
Nicolas Armindo was quickest of the GTE-Am cars in the #67 IMSA Matmut Porsche RSR—another ELMS entry. The only other Am car, the AF Corse Ferrari, is also from ELMS.
“Of course we are very please with our team to be here as guests at this weekend for Petit Le Mans. The track is my first time here. I would say, from TV it’s not that complicated but very hard to learn. But no, it was not so easy.
“We come from France, so we do not have enough spare parts so we cannot do any crashing the cars. We did a good job, so far no scratches! We are just one second off the pole of GT, so I think we show we have a good car.
AF Corse and IMSA Matmut have been battling all season at ELMS events and at Le Mans, Armindo explained. “We had a tight season with AF Corse, the level is really high, the battle was always tough. We had some good moves together until now; it will be very tight.
“From my point of view the end of the race will be the most exciting and important of the weekend.” Of course, every racer thinks that.
Finally, Leh Keen in the class champion #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche topped that all-ALMS GTC class with a lap of 1:24.060, just .19 quicker than Damian Faulkner in the #34 Green Hornet Porsche. Since AJR has already won the class title and driver Cooper MacNeil has the GTC drivers’ championship, the crew can go all-out for the win at Petit; there is no need to be conservative.
“We always focused on getting the championship, so this weekend we went all out, make it fast and go for the win of the race,” Leh Keen said. “We worked on the race setup when it came off the truck. We made some changes for qualifying. The AJR team has had a fantastic week really, so now we just need to focus on tomorrow.”
The 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda will take the green flag at 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct 20. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate; visit RoadAtlanta.com for details.
Fans can follow the race live on ESPN3.com, and ABC will air its highlights broadcast staring at 1 p.m. Sunday.
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