Houston: Qualifying report

BRABHAM, ACURA STORM TO OVERALL POLE IN HOUSTON It's been a long time since David Brabham qualified on the top overall spot in the American Le Mans Series. He proved Friday that he still has what it takes with a thrilling...

BRABHAM, ACURA STORM TO OVERALL POLE IN HOUSTON

It's been a long time since David Brabham qualified on the top overall spot in the American Le Mans Series. He proved Friday that he still has what it takes with a thrilling final-lap pass to claim the pole position for Saturday's Lone Star Grand Prix at JAGFlo Speedway at Reliant Park in Houston. Brabham turned in a time of 1:01.824 for Highcroft Racing's Acura ARX entry, the first for the team and second straight overall pole for Acura.

Brabham knocked Audi's Allan McNish from the top spot by 0.006 seconds. It marks the second straight week that an LMP2 car has taken pole position.

"I can't tell you the effort that has gone into this team," Brabham said. "They went from a small team to a large team. It's a whole new experience for Duncan (Dayton) and his team. There is something special happening for the team and you can sense it. We've been close all season and been close at the end and just had a sniff of it."

The top five cars were within 0.5 seconds of each other. After McNish came Penske Motorsports' two Porsche RS Spyders with Romain Dumas leading the factory effort with a time of 1:01.876. He was a tenth better than Ryan Briscoe in the other Penske entry.

Brabham is the only driver in Series history to win pole positions in four different classes. He sat on the overall pole twice in 1999 in a factory Panoz prototype: Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and Las Vegas. He drove a Panoz Esperante GTLM last year at Houston and is well aware of the challenges and bumps at the Houston street circuit.

"Under braking is the worst because it's hard to go deep into a corner," Brabham said. "I think on the last lap I just got it right and wasn't bumping all over the place and trying to keep it going straight. It's something you just enjoy trying to whip the car around and really have to drive the car."

McNish set his time, the best among LMP1 entries, early in the session. His time of 1:01.830 put him 0.7 seconds ahead of Marco Werner in the sister car. McNish and teammate Rinaldo Capello have won the last two rounds in class although they were a distant seventh overall at Long Beach.

"We've fought out lots of races and lots of championships," McNish said of his friendly rivalry with Brabham that dates back to 1988. "When he popped up and he was just ahead, I thought I had to get him back tomorrow. The checkered flag was out and he waited until the last second."

The last two races have been completely different stories for the diesel- powered R10 TDI. McNish and Capello won at St. Petersburg, which was flowing and quite fast for a street circuit. Last week at the tighter and slower Long Beach, the diesel entry struggled with its long wheelbase and weight.

"We never thought we'd have the top spot around here," McNish said. "We're pretty glad were in the position to be at the front and to fight for the win. One of the things is the car is in the air a lot and it does depend how you land and when you can throttle up. I just lined it up and got a good one."

Olivier Beretta claimed his 20th career Series pole position with a 1:06.963 lap to best Corvette Racing teammate Johnny O'Connell by 0.18 seconds. It was Beretta's second pole of the season and the third for the No. 4 pairing of the four-time Series champion and teammate Oliver Gavin.

Beretta and Gavin finished second overall last season and won the GT1 class. The dynamic duo, two-time and defending class champions, have opened the season with three straight class wins and a commanding lead in the championship.

"The car was very good. I didn't have any problem during the practice," said Beretta. "Oliver did very good work this morning on the setup. Johnny was pushing very hard and the time came along with him. I am lucky to have a good car and the right engineer. I tried to do my best and the lap came along. Johnny did a good lap but mine was a little better."

"We're going to give it everything we have," O'Connell said. "Lady Luck has a habit of turning around. If nothing else, the guys who are turning the wrenches on the No. 3 car deserve it. They're working very hard."

Mika Salo won his second consecutive pole in GT2 and the third for championship leader Risi Competizione. Salo recorded a lap of 1:09.419 in the lead Risi Ferrari F430 GT to beat out Dirk Muller in Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing's Ferrari by 0.391 seconds.

Salo's time was nearly two seconds better than teammate Jaime Melo's class pole time from 2006.

"The car has been really good from the beginning," Salo said. "We found a good setup for the car over the bumps and we don't even feel them any more because the car is so good. The last corner is a little slower than last year and tighter. There could be some mistakes and go into the wall."

The Houston-based team has started the season with three straight class wins and owns a four-race winning streak dating back to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at the close of last season.

Johannes van Overbeek was third in class at 1:09.954 for Flying Lizard Motorsports in one of its Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs that he will share with Jörg Bergmeister. The team stands second in the team championship standings and has had its cars finish second to the Risi Ferrari at each of the three previous races.

"Everybody is very quick in GT2," Salo said. "It will be a very hard race. You have to push from start to finish and stay out of trouble. The team has been fantastic and the pit stops have been spot on all year."

The Lone Star Grand Prix at Houston's JAGFlo Speedway at Reliant Park is set for 5:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 21. The race will be broadcast on CBS Sports at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 29. International coverage will be available on MotorsTV, SPEED Latin America and 7TV in Russia. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing and Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Dirk Müller , Allan McNish , Mika Salo , Johnny O'Connell , Oliver Gavin , Jaime Melo , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta
Teams Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione