Guy Smith wins back and forth pole battle
Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith captured an emotional pole position Friday for the Tequila Patr¢n American Le Mans Series at Long Beach with a lap of 1:14.001 (95.739 mph) in the team’s Mazda-powered Lola coupe. The Englishman went 0.452 seconds quicker than Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing’s Klaus Graf around the historic downtown Long Beach street circuit for his second career pole position in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n.
It provided a much-needed lift for Mazda, which remains in shock following last month’s horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“I think I did a 16.7 or 16.8 in the morning practice, and my engineers wanted to see me down in the 14s and I didn’t think it was possible,” said Smith, who was on pole position last season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. “Credit goes to our engineers. The track is changing all the time and they did a great job. There was so much rubber that went down so you’re guessing as to what will happen.”
Smith and teammate Chris Dyson entered the weekend with the LMP1 championship lead and through the first day at Long Beach don’t seem inclined to give it up. Smith set the fastest three laps of the session on consecutive laps after he and Graf swapped the top spot eight times in the session.
“I could see that we were very close everywhere with the Muscle Milk guys,” team owner Rob Dyson said. “We got the car to work in a couple of corners where it wasn’t this morning. And that was huge. There will be good, clean competition tomorrow, and it will be a great show.”
“By this time tomorrow the track will be different again. Every time I’d cross the line, I’d gain a half-second and then Klaus would come back and go quicker. So he kept me honest. The first part of the weekend is good. Tomorrow the real work begins.”
Still, there was a somber feel to the occasion given the ongoing tragedy in the Far East.
“The people of Japan have been through a ton, so all of us at Mazda, Guy and the Dyson team dedicate our performance to them,” said John Doonan, MAZDASPEED team manager. “We’ve worked really hard, and our little car company keeps working hard. This comes when our company and the people of Japan need some good news.”
Joey Hand’s remarkable season continued with his second career ALMS pole position and first at Long Beach. The Californian set a lap of 1:19.090 (89.579 mph) in the BMW M3 GT that he will pilot with Dirk Mueller for BMW Team RLL. Following up on a victory at the ALMS opener in Sebring and overall at the Daytona 24 Hours, Hand won a hard-fought session that saw the top four cars within 0.373 seconds.
“It’s been a good year and all about momentum,” Hand said. “This is one my favorite venues and I’ve wanted to win here for a long time. On a street course like this, the first guy fast is the guy to beat. So I wanted to go out from the beginning and be that guy. Our car was so good on the balance that I was honestly surprised.”
He needed every advantage. Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen was second in class with a 1:19.137 (89.526 mph) in the Corvette C6.R that he will drive with Oliver Gavin. The car had to replace its driveshaft in the morning practice. Bill Auberlen was third in the second BMW Team RLL entry at 1:19.447 (89.176 mph) that he will drive with Dirk Werner.
After winning twice in the last two years – both at Road America – the BMWs look incredibly strong early in the year.
“We have new chassis this year. Right out of the box, you get a feeling right away. I liked this one immediately. With BMW Motorsport, BMW North America and RLL…you let them look at all the data and then bring the best package to the table. And it’s a great car to drive. When I get comfy, good things happen.”
Gunnar Jeannette took pole position in LMP Challenge for CORE autosport, the first for the rookie ALMS team. His lap of 1:17.736 (91.139 mph) in the ORECA FLM09 that he will share with Ricardo Gonzalez was only 0.388 seconds quicker than Kyle Marcelli in Intersport Racing’s entry. He will team with Tomy Drissi.
“We had both our cars on the podium at Sebring and now our first pole,” Jeannette said. “So obviously we’ll be looking for our first win Saturday. It will be crazy, that’s for sure. Because of the regulations, I’m actually losing distance to the GT cars on the straight. It will be difficult and our class is extremely competitive. I’ll do my best to stay clean and let things sort themselves out.”
That means taking care in traffic, something not made easier by the concrete walls that line the circuit and three other classes racing at the same time.
“There is a lot of chance that goes on in street races,” he said. “We all have to deal with it in different ways. The GT cars are going to be nose-to-tail, and they’re going to make it difficult for us to interrupt their race. But this is such an awesome venue. I hope there is a lot of respect because it will be a lot of give and take for all of us.”
Alex Figge qualified third in class at 1:18.286 (90.499 mph) for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. He will drive with Miles Maroney
Jeroen Bleekemolen got his Long Beach pole position after a year of waiting with a lap of 1:23.179 (85.175 mph) for Black Swan Racing. The Dutch pilot broke Andy Lally’s qualifying record from last year by nearly a full second in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry he will share with team owner Tim Pappas. BSR made its GTC debut at Long Beach last year, went on to win four times and claim the class championship.
Bleekemolen was the fastest qualifier last year at Long Beach before the car was excluded in post-session inspections due to an improper fuel mixture.
“We’ve come a long way since last year,” said the former LMP2 winner at Le Mans and Porsche Supercup champion. “We didn’t get the result we wanted here but our guys learned and took so many poles and wins after that. And they started with a win at Sebring this season. But we know it will be tough all year, just by looking at the times.
Alex Job Racing’s Leh Keen was second in class with a lap of 1:23.853 (84.491 mph), just 0.674 seconds behind Bleekemolen; he will drive with Bill Sweedler. Spencer Pumpelly was third-quickest at 1:24.134 (84.209 mph) in the TRG Porsche he will drive with Duncan Ende.
“A lot can happen here. Overtaking is not so easy and it only takes one mistake to put you in the wall,” Bleekemolen said. “It’s a shorter race so you have to give everything you have. For sure that was already happening at Sebring but it will be even tougher here.”
The Long Beach round will go live on ESPN3.com at 4:15 p.m. PT. Fans outside the U.S. can access live broadcasts through americanlemans.com, which also offers live timing and scoring throughout the weekend. The race will air on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 17, at 5 p.m. (ET). Visit the americanlemans.com schedule page for information on tickets and accommodations.
Tequila Patr¢n American Le Mans Series at Long Beach
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