Jonny Crocker leads Lola 1-2 in ALMS qualifying
Drayson Racing’s Jonny Cocker picked up his second straight pole position in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n with the fastest lap in qualifying Saturday for the American Le Mans Series powered by eStar. The young British star turned a lap of 1:49.554 (133.019 mph) around Road America in the Lola-Judd coupe that he will share with Paul Drayson.
Saturday’s lap also made Cocker the first driver in the Series this year to win more than one overall pole position. He did it in dominating fashion with a 1.321-second gap over Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith in another Lola coupe, this one powered by a Mazda engine.
Cocker’s second fastest lap would have been enough for pole as well. Muscle Milk Team CytoSport’s Porsche RS Spyder qualified third with Klaus Graf’s lap of 1:51.312 (130.918 mph). He will drive with Timo Bernhard.
“First of all, well done to everyone at Drayson Racing. The car was fantastic and around here you need a car that gives you confidence,” Cocker said. “That’s what we had today, and we had that at Mid-Ohio. We continue to make progress and it’s showing. It will be great to be in front of everyone at the start.”
Speed has never been an issue for the closed-top Lola-Judd prototype. It has led races at Utah, Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio, and the team is hopeful that this will be its breakthrough weekend for a first victory. It couldn’t happen at a better place, Cocker said.
“I quite like this [circuit]! It has a huge amount of character and reminds you of Spa or Le Mans,” he said. It’s quite a European style and I think that’s why so many people fall in love with it. But the race is its own thing (separate from qualifying), and traffic is always an issue. You’d think the LMPs would be able to get around the GT cars easily but it’s still very difficult.”
Luis Diaz is off to a good start in his return to prototype racing around Road America with a pole position in LMP Challenge. Last year’s LMP2 race-winner and Series co-champion set a time of 1:58.287 (123.199 mph) for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. He will drive the team’s ORECA FLM09 with Ricardo Gonzalez.
“This feels great. It is one of my favorite places to come race,” said Diaz, who drove to a P2 victory with Adrian Fernandez in 2009. “I’m very happy to be fighting for pole positions here. To be honest when I was here with Adrian last year, I thought it was the last chance to win at this track. I have had a lot of success in Atlantics and with the Acura. This really is a great feeling to be back here. I think I’m enjoying racing more now than in the past. This is the best Series in the world and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
Diaz was quickest in both practice sessions Saturday, and his qualifying lap was 2.6 seconds quicker than his time from the second practice immediately prior to qualifying. Needless to say, he was surprised.
“I didn’t see those times in practice,” Diaz admitted. “The car had more balance during the longer runs, which is good for us. At Mid-Ohio I had trouble with the traffic after coming from racing the GTC class Porsche earlier this year. Hopefully I can be more aggressive this weekend in traffic. We have the speed and the car to win. The Series is making the right changes with the changes to the restrictor sizes (giving the FLM09s more power) and it’s making things safer.”
Diaz’s best lap was 1.125 seconds quicker than Intersport Racing’s Kyle Marcelli, the best starting position for the team in class. He will drive with Chapman Ducote. Gunnar Jeannette was third in class at 2:00.092 (121.347 mph) in the Green Earth Team Gunnar entry that he will share with Elton Julian.
Oliver Gavin claimed his fourth career pole position at Road America and first in GT for Corvette Racing. The British ace turned a lap of 2:06.509 (115.192 mph) in the Corvette C6.R that he will drive with Olivier Beretta and was 0.165 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen in the second Corvette. Magnussen will drive with Johnny O’Connell.
The two Corvettes swept the top two spots in GT qualifying for the first time since moving to the class in the middle of last year. Gavin and Beretta also finished second in class two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, and having previous track data has made a huge difference.
“I don’t think anyone at the team will miss that we’ve had a difficult year. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Gavin said. “The last few races have been good for us. We tested here earlier for Le Mans, and we’ve been able to carry some of that into this weekend. The data has helped a lot. It’s no secret that Salt Lake City and Lime Rock weren’t good for us. Now we’re at tracks where we have data and have raced.”
Pierre Kaffer qualified the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT third in class at 2:06.997 (114.749 mph). He will drive with Mika Salo. The top six cars were within 0.946 seconds of each other. Six manufacturers are in the class this weekend.
“This class is so competitive and you never know where you are going to stand every time you go out,” Gavin said. “We have a car that can race with anyone. Whether or not we’ve seen the best from BMW, we’ll see. And you never count out Risi and Flying Lizard. They are so experienced and have done this time and time again. … At Mid-Ohio, it was a good race for me, for the team and the car. We didn’t have quite enough for the Ferrari. I feel that here we have a slightly better car here. I want to keep the momentum going and if we can then I’ll be delighted. I don’t think there is a championship that has this many manufacturers racing this close together. It is great fun.”
In GT Challenge, Jeroen Bleekemolen won his fifth consecutive class pole position with a 2:14.345 (108.473 mph) in the Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry that he will drive with team owner Tim Pappas. The former LMP2 winner at Le Mans was only 0.175 seconds ahead of TRG’s Andy Lally, who is driving with Duncan Ende.
Lally though crashed on his second flying lap of qualifying. His time was good enough for a 0.323-second gap to James Sofronas in the GMG Racing Porsche.
“I was trying to follow Andy and really pushing to put a good time in,” Bleekemolen said. “I think on the second lap we would have been faster before his shunt. I hope we can keep this performance up for the race. It’s not the easiest track for us. Some of the other variations of Porsches have higher top speeds. It’s good to be out front again though.”
There haven’t been many laps where the Black Swan car hasn’t been out front. Even when at the back of the GTC field – as Pappas was following an early collision at Mid-Ohio – it doesn’t stay there long.
“Tim’s doing a great job all the time,” Bleekemolen said. “He’s picking up lots of lap times. It’s really great for us. At the beginning of the year he was up there with the guys he is racing against and has only gotten better. He came in leading at Lime Rock and then came back at Mid-Ohio from the back of the grid.”
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