ALMS – Chevy Presents Petit Le Mans – Prototype
Clint Field Nips Ian James at the Flag
Also at the Flag, Weaver The Quickest
© Tom Kjos
Road Atlanta, Braselton, Georgia, USA – We didn’t
see this coming, not exactly like this, and neither did you. Sure,
the Dyson Lolas have taken most of the poles this season, including
a sweep at Road America, the most recent stop for this circus. James
Weaver has done this before, gone fast at exactly the last (and right)
moment. In their first outing, Miracle Motorsports had put their shiny
new Courage C65 on the pole at Road America.
we’ve watched Champion’s two Audi R8s begin to assert
themselves over the last few sessions here, and to us (and others)
it seemed there was an increased presence from Volkswagen-Audi AG.
After setting the 1st and 2nd fastest times in the opening practice
session on Thursday, the highest a Dyson car was on the time sheets
in the next three sessions was third.
them to go easy on the cars,” said team-owner Rob Dyson. “This
race is going to run for ten hours, and if you can’t run that
long, you can’t win. Our cars have been fast all year, but
at this race we’re focusing on reliability. I didn’t
want to run the cars any harder than we needed to.” Peter
Weston, Dyson Racing’s late-of-Lola chassis engineer, when
asked what to expect in qualifying, was specific. “Number
2 will get it (the pole).” That with the cars on pit lane,
waiting the session’s green flag. Dyson team manager Randall
Kelsey couldn’t disagree, except to add, “We’ll
see whether James has anything up his sleeve.”
at Creation Autosportif was upbeat just before qualifying. “We
managed to get set-ups for both qualifying and the race that we’re
happy with. We think we can match the race pace of the Audis.”
That and the fact that this car had taken two out of four poles
in the LMES – against mighty Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx –
meant there certainly was reason for optimism.
the paddock at Miracle Motorsports, Jon Macaluso was busy, but Yves
Courage (left) was happy to chat. “Yes, I am pleased. The
only problem that we have had is the time – the time we need
to get the tire to work with the car. I like very well American
racing; in the past we have not had a good experience – we
would like to start that again with a good experience.” Nicolas
Perrin, a Courage employee working with Miracle, joined us. “We
have a new tire (Yokohama) built especially for this car, and the
circuits here are different. For us it is all brand new,”
expect to have more than one Courage in the ALMS next year, Yves?”
we asked. That got a smile and a simple answer, “Yes.”
What do you expect from qualifying Mr. Perrin? “Pole position
green flag for the prototype session came at 3:17. Sure enough,
Pierre Kaffer (Champion Audi R8 #2) set an early fast lap in the
high 1:12s. Is it going to be a romp? The other LMP1s are well up
into the 1:13s, even 1:14s after a first set of laps. The really
fast laps were set last night in the cooler weather, weren’t
they? Perhaps that will be enough. Almost simultaneously, Ian James
puts the Miracle Motorsports Courage at the top of LMP2 with a 1:18.220.
Didn’t someone say that ALMS is getting so predictable?
At 3:23, Michael
Lewis puts Autocon’s Riley & Scott Mk IIIC/Elan into the
tire barrier. At last, some notice – but that cuts the session
short. When we get the green flag back, there are just nine minutes
left in the twenty-minute session. Right out of the chute, Ian James
resets fastest LMP2 lap with a 1:17.991, and again, lowers the mark
to 1:17.443. The Dyson Lolas seem to be struggling, not finding
the speed. “Wait,” someone says, “the Goodyears
come in later, James (Weaver) doesn’t have the heat in yet,”
(another reason the Englishman so much dislikes one-at-a-time two-lap
qualifying, we think, cynically).
LMP1 is conforming to script. Pierre Kaffer resets best time with
a 1:12.556. That lasts an entire minute. Nicolas Minassian banishes
the German with a decisive-looking 1:12.421. It’s 3:36 PM.
With just four minutes remaining, the pole looks set, especially
when the Dyson cars and Audis don’t immediately answer. Minassian,
Courage – our friends from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest
might have to be revived, we think. This is the way the grand sport
should look, no?
it was all different. A checkered flag, cars through just before,
still on flying laps. John Hindhaugh, ALMS Web Radio, calling this
session on the public address system here, is about to expire on
us, having cheered and yelled through the changes and challenges.
Now he describes the progress of the last cars on the track, and
explodes into “he’s got the pole!” as Clint Field
– the first we have heard from the Intersport Lola B2K/40
Judd – hits the mark with a 1:17.225, just seventeen thousandths
faster than the Miracle Courage.
not the end, either. Weaver has been flying on this last lap (we’ve
seen this before, haven’t we?). But the car is so low to the
ground and so “hooked up” that alone on the track it
doesn’t look fast. A fan tells me later, “I saw him
through (turns) two and three, and I thought ‘why isn’t
he pushing faster?’ I realized later he was just so smooth.”
Hindhaugh gets through it – screams the result, “He’s
got it! Weaver takes the pole!” And so he had, again, his
fifth this year in eight races.
We asked Creation’s Mike Jankowski after it was all over.
“We expected to be on the pole,” he said. “We
were disappointed – we could have done better, but the fact
is, we’re a little down on top speed, on the straight.”
who qualified Creation’s Reynard DBA 03S/Zytek, said, “It
was a pretty good lap. This track takes a lot out of the car but
I think it would have been possible to go quicker. I’m a little
bit disappointed because pole position is always sweet, you know,
but the front row is a great job. We are not far at all from the
people who have been doing this forever and we are going to give
them our best shot tomorrow.”
captured both prototype poles again with only two teams in the fray;
it seems it’s becoming a regular occurrence.
Weaver was in good form at the post qualifying press conference:
“I’m a big fan of traditional qualifying. I think that
stupid two-lap qualifying is just that – stupid. As a school
boy, I remember going and watching Villeneuve (that would be Gilles,
of course) in the British Grand Prix, and I’ve been convinced
that is the proper way to do it ever since. If that (session just
completed) doesn’t convince them (that the “traditional’
approach of multiple cars out during a timed period is exciting),
then nothing will. I made a pig’s ear of a couple of laps
there and came out in traffic – right where I didn’t
want to be – but then “geniusly” (poking fun at
himself) found a hole and got two clear laps in.”
told that without the red flag interruption the Lola was “good
for a one-eleven.” About the race tomorrow, James offered
that a “betting man” would have to back Audi, wouldn’t
he? “Audi has to be the finest sports car ever built,”
said the Wiltshire, England, resident. Johnny Herbert, the Brentwood,
Essex, England, Audi pilot looked forward to the race, after partner
Kaffer fell just short in qualifying, "I'm very happy with
the car and am hopeful I can win the Petit Le Mans for a second
consecutive year. The amount of traffic makes this race particularly
difficult so it's vital to have a car that is both good on and off
line for overtaking. I'm delighted to be back here with Team ADT
Champion Racing - winning the Le Mans Endurance Series for Audi
was satisfying but I've missed racing over here."
count the blue and white cars out again, though, will we?