CORE autosport 2nd and 5th after Laguna qualifying brawl

#06 Core Autosport Oreca FLM09: Alex Popow, Tom Kimber-Smith
#06 Core Autosport Oreca FLM09: Alex Popow, Tom Kimber-Smith

Photo by: Jeff Davidson

MONTEREY, Ca., Friday, May 11, 2012: It was an all-out brawl in ALMS Prototype Challenge (PC) qualifying today with CORE autosport emerging with the second and fifth starting spots for the six-hour American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patrón at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

After standing atop the charts for today’s two practice sessions with a fast time of 1:19.376 around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn track, #06 Soloson Import ORECA FLM09 driver Tom Kimber-Smith quickly set a fast time in the incident-shortened qualifying, but the competition also rose to the occasion. In the 13-minute session (versus scheduled 15 minutes), the two-time Le Mans winner was able to set a best time of 1:18.092, a mere 0.2 seconds off of the PC-class pole position time. Kimber-Smith, along with lead #06 driver Alex Popow, will line up second in the PC class, seventh overall.

This is Kimber-Smith’s first visit to Mazda Raceway and his first pairing with PC championship leader Popow. Popow has co-driven the #06 to victories in the first two American Le Mans Series (ALMS) events of 2012, the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and the street race at Long Beach in April.

The sister #05 Composite Resources machine also got faster as the day went on. Qualifying duties were given to Colin Braun, who was able to set a fast time of 1:18.423, good for a fifth place starting spot (10th overall). Braun is partnered with CORE autosport founder and owner Jon Bennett, who has seen his small Rock Hill, SC-based team emerge as a powerful force in ALMS competition since the team’s entry in the series in 2011, when it won both driver and team PC championships.

The cost-contained ALMS PC class, with a combination of standardized engines, chassis and tires, as well as requiring a combination of amateur and professional co-drivers, has proven to be very popular among drivers and fans, and boasts close competition and increased field sizes. The first eight PC class cars qualified within 0.9 seconds of each other, each driver fighting to shave a tenth of a second around the challenging course.

Jon Bennett

"Qualifying is fun to watch and I think we had a solid showing.

“Of course there’s an egotistical side that would like to have us starting first and second tomorrow, but in reality tomorrow is what counts, for championship points and for results.

“It’s a six-hour race and I think our cars are very strong, we have a solid driver line-up and I believe the team will be in great shape.”

Colin Braun

“Fifth place is not what I wanted for the team or for Jon, but I think that the entire CORE autosport organization is up for the challenge of six hours of hard racing tomorrow.

“The #05 car was very good and improving throughout the day, and the session. Gary [Davies, lead engineer] gave me a very good setup for qualifying and I was getting faster and faster. I know the car has a lot of speed left in it, which is a good feeling as we enter into what’s going to be a tough race for everyone – the drivers and crew.

“Tomorrow our plan is to keep our nose clean out there, drive as hard as possible and emerge back on the podium. It’s going to be a challenge, but should be a lot of fun.”

Alex Popow

“We’re happy to be here and running so well. Trying to get another first place, that is our goal.

“We have been in first place for two races in a row - I think we can't improve on that, just maintain it, so we’re going for a win.

“Tom has demonstrated that he can be faster than everyone here and I try to keep the other ‘gentleman’ drivers behind us. I think we can win the race tomorrow.”

Tom Kimber-Smith

“In qualifying every lap was getting better and better, I was shocked how quick qualifying was. I didn’t think we could get down to the 1:18s, and pole was 1:17.8. I think if there were those extra two minutes at the end, I think I could’ve gotten down to a 1:17.6, but I’m glad to say the car was definitely coming towards me.

“We’ve definitely got a very strong race car, and it’s always nice to be quick in qualifying, but tomorrow’s where it counts.

“All the racing I’ve done in Europe has been for six hours, so the time is nothing new to me. Doing it with two drivers is going to be slightly different - I haven’t done the ‘two driver thing’ for a while.

“Alex is a super-quick driver. He’s classified as an amateur driver, but he can mix it with the pros. So having us two in a car we should be pretty good out there.”