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ALMS – Road America 500 – Qualifying Report
Road America Qualifying
Dyson Racing Sweeps the Front Row
Miracle Motorsports Edges Intersport
Corvettes in GTS – Surprise!
AJR Starts Another String
© Tom Kjos
Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, USA – Dyson Racing made it five poles in seven races on the season and three in a row when two blue and white Lola B01/60-AER turbos swept the front row in a record-setting performance at famous Road America. In the fifteen races since Sebring 2003, the pole score is now Lola eight, Audi seven; unfortunately for the Poughkeepsie, New York team, there are no trophies for qualifying.

That outcome was indicated when Butch Leitzinger, in the car late in the afternoon practice, ran off back-to-back laps more than a half-second faster than could be managed by JJ Lehto or Marco Werner in Champion Racing’s Audi R8. "The car has a little bit of understeer right now as well as a bounce where you touch the ground,” said Werner, “That is a bit of a problem on the braking points as you are locking wheels."

Before the afternoon practice, a relaxed Leitzinger told us the car “felt good. James (Weaver) did most of the set-up work (in the morning).” And ‘the kink’, the famous turn between the Carousel and Canada Corner? “Flat-out, but with a pucker,” said Butch, “we added a little downforce and it was flat-out easy, but that was too slow down the straight, so we took it out again…so the pucker is back.” The pole wasn’t certain for the #16 car, however. “I want to thank James for letting me qualify; the car was so good it could get the pole (regardless of the driver), but it wasn’t easy, not only the Audi, but Andy (Wallace, in the #20 Dyson Lola) was flying as well. He was hurt by the red (flag, for a part shed by Ian James’ Miracle Motorsport Courage C65), or he might have been sitting up here (in the pole-winner’s press conference). The Lolas’ times were no “one lap wonders”, both cars consistently posting sub 1:54 times, and Andy putting up two “fast laps” against the three other LMP1s. Leitzinger’s new record 1:51.893 was good for a 130.239 average around the 4.048 mile track and bested Tom Kristensen’s 2002 mark of 1:52.166.

dailysportscar.comIntersport made steering and suspension changes early in the meeting, and were suffering from a lack of front end grip. Did they get it back? “We got a little, but not enough,” said Duncan Dayton. “We’re going back to last year’s settings with which we ran 1:53s. I guess we outsmarted ourselves (with the changes earlier in the weekend)”. Jon Field finally managed a 1:55.456 in qualifying, better, but still not the 1:53s run with the AER turbo last year.

We asked Butch what the early race tactics would be, given that the Audi’s Michelins would get up to speed quicker than the Lola’s Goodyears. “The Goodyear is a great tire, but it’s no secret that it takes a little longer to bring the tire in than the Michelin. So they (Champion) have a little advantage on the first few laps. The best thing is that Andy and I are on the front row (together). The Lolas might be little, but they can be incredibly wide.”

Champion won’t be going away, of course. They’ve demonstrated quite often enough that they don’t need the pole to win. "Obviously we are a little bit disappointed. Road America is normally a very good place for the R8 to run,” said Technical Director Brad Kettler. “We've had a little bit of trouble with the behavior of the car, the handling, since we got here. We've improved it but not to the level that I would like. Basically we are just going to concentrate on a consistent performance tomorrow."

Given the team’s excellent pit stops, and JJ Lehto and Marco Werner piloting, “consistent performance” might once again be enough.

Even given the normal shake-out that comes with a new car, Miracle Motorsports couldn’t have been too happy with their weekend before Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session. The car had been set up for the Michelins that it competed on last Saturday at Silverstone. From there, it was shipped to Le Mans, France to be re-built in Yves Courage’s shops, Tuesday was flown to the United States and thence to Road America on Wednesday. In Friday’s test session, Miracle could manage only a 2:05.302. Intersport had its Lola B2K/40 Judd at two minutes and a half-second, and were pretty confident that the new car wouldn’t push them too hard. Saturday morning’s practice saw a cold-tire off exiting turn one for the Courage, and a “no-time” session spent on repairs; there was no indication that the French chassis with the British turbo four cylinder would be a factor. Clint Field and Robin Liddell concentrated on race set-ups and turned in another two-minutes and change lap, just three seconds off the LMP1 time set by Intersport’s Lola B01/60-Judd. The first indication of the potential of the C65 came in the afternoon practice, when the red prototype posted a 2:00.843, just .29 back of the Intersport Lola-Judd. Though there has been some criticism of the team’s decision to honor their Yokohama contract, they’re sure they’re doing the right thing. “We’ve had some problems with the tires because they were designed for a GTS car a few years ago, not for us. But Yokohamo builds a very good tire. They’re building a new tire just for us for Petit Le Mans,” said driver Ian James.

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For much of qualifying, Clint Field seemed to be having it his own way - until the last lap, Ian got it all right, and flew the four miles in an impressive 1:58.847, enough for the pole, when Clint could manage only a 1:59.174 in a last-lap attempt to keep Intersport’s string of poles alive. We asked Ian what was still to be gotten out of the Courage. “I’m sure there’s a second or more left in it.” They might well find that much in race lap times tomorrow. If so, they’ll control this one. We’re sure that Robin Liddell and Clint Field have no intention of going quietly. Finally this class is getting good.

GTS suffered from the absence of Lamborghini – because they would have contributed to the sights and sounds that sports car racing fans crave – but not because they would have provided anything but cannon fodder for the dominant Corvettes. Similarly, the ACEMCO Saleen S7R continues to be off the pace – a full five seconds here (in the absence of a genuine time from Borcheller), beaten by two seconds by the Carsport Viper, the latter finally showing some of the improvement the team has expected throughout the season, after significant over-the-winter revisions.

We asked ACEMCO’s Jeff Giangrande if he was satisfied with the progress the team has made thus far this season…a very long pause…then “No”, was the answer. “We have a number of issues, but we are making progress. I hoped the overall package would have come together by now. We have two of the top guys driving in sports cars – we have no issues with drivers. Elan power is very good. I’m very happy with Elan. We ran four races on the engine, then took it out, and found we could have run a fifth. The chassis is good. We’re continuing to develop, of course…”

Olivier Beretta wiped partner Oliver Gavin out of the Road America record book with a 2:00.886 clocking in the #4 Corvette C5-R.

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In GT, the Panoz Esperante was showing some potential again, running a third best in the afternoon’s practice, and then nearly held serve with a fifth best on the GT grid in 2:09.344. Up front is it was all Alex Job Racing, though, as Jörg Bergmeister set and reset the GT track record after an early moment when teammate Marc Lieb held the top spot. The new record of 2:07.577 came with Jörg’s first pole of the season, and fourth of his ALMS career. Has AJR started a new pole-winning streak after ending their 22-win string? Petersen Motorsports-White Lightning Racing qualified immediately behind the two McKenna Mail-to-Web Xybernaut Porsches at this track where they are the defending champions. The Petersen-White Porsche lost by nothing more than a just-a-smidgen-too-long “splash” at Mosport two weeks ago, and are “confident without being cocky”, according to driver Craig Stanton. David Murry will start the red and white Porsche tomorrow. Kevin Buckler’s Racer’s Group Porsche, the #66 with former world Porsche Cup winner Cort Wagner and Porsche factory driver Patrick Long is qualified in the fourth spot. Are they ready to take a race after a bit of a drought?

dailysportscar.comThe #45 Flying Lizard Porsche, in a dogfight for the season championship with the #23 Alex Job Porsche, qualified a ‘weak’ eighth (well, maybe not, since you could throw a blanket over the top nine in this field, and six are in the 2:09 bracket). Flying Lizard’s #45 team have been notoriously slow qualifiers all season for a team that continues to lead the class championship after six of nine races. By the end of the race, however, that’s been old (and irrelevant) news.

We’ve got even “more perfecter” weather on tap for tomorrow – and a little warmer. Forget the field size, we’ve got some of the best cars in the world, and real contests in all but a single class (in that other class, we’ve at least got an intramural battle).

 

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