PORTLAND, OR, July 24, 2004 -- With several minutes left in qualifying for the Grand Prix of Portland, driver JJ Lehto pulled into the pits and climbed out of his Audi R8. Still four tenths of a second behind the flying Thetford/Norcold Lolas of...
PORTLAND, OR, July 24, 2004 -- With several minutes left in qualifying for the Grand Prix of Portland, driver JJ Lehto pulled into the pits and climbed out of his Audi R8. Still four tenths of a second behind the flying Thetford/Norcold Lolas of Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger, he conceded the front row to the Dyson Racing team. On a blazing Oregon afternoon, the only thing hotter than the 100-degree ambient temperatures was the performance of the pair of blue-and-white Dyson cars.
"I'm thrilled to bits," said Wallace of his second career pole position in the American Le Mans Series. "When you just miss in qualifying it doesn't count. When you're quick in practice it doesn't count. But this counts. I'm thrilled for the crew of the #20 car; they've worked so hard and until now we just hadn't quite gotten it done in qualifying."
Fans watching on television could see Wallace hanging the tail of his oversteering car out during his quick laps. "That's the only way to go really fast," Wallace noted. He explained that with an understeering car, one with the front tires sliding as the car negotiates a corner, all a driver can do is wait it out before mashing the throttle. "With the rear end sliding a little, you can get on the throttle right away, and that's how you go fast."
This is the Dyson team's third pole position in four races, but the first for the #20 car that Wallace shares with Chris Dyson. The #16 car took the pole at Mid-Ohio last month and over the July 4th weekend at Lime Rock, CT with James Weaver at the wheel.
Wallace and teammate Butch Leitzinger traded fast times during the session before Wallace finally set the fast time, a bare 7/100ths of a second quicker than Leitzinger's #16 Lola.
"We both lowered (our times) again," Leitzinger said. "I'm really happy. I thought that we'd have a better race car than qualifying car here at Portland, and I do think we'll have a very good, consistent race car. It should be an excellent race Sunday. Champion (the Audi team) always has an excellent car on race day."
Wallace thanked the crew of the #16 car for helping him post his fast time in the #20 car. "Just before qualifying started, they gave us a bit of information that definitely helped us. Both teams share all of our information with one another. That's one of the things that makes the Dyson team different from a lot of others.
Wallace also gave credit to Goodyear for tires that stood up to the heat and kept on giving. "The Goodyear engineers worked so hard to get the tires to work better in extreme heat, and I think it's showing today."
Ambient temperatures 15 degrees cooler are forecast for Sunday, and Wallace, noting that "the life of a left-front tire around this track isn't a happy one," suggested that in accordance with ALMS rules that permit the substitution of one tire between qualifying and the start of the race, he may substitute a faster but less durable tire on his car's left-front corner if the temperature drops sufficiently. Leitzinger, on the other hand, doesn't think that even a substantial drop in air temperature will mean much of a change for race conditions. "The track temperature won't change that much, so the tires won't know it's that much different."
"I'm looking forward to the start of the race," said Chris Dyson, who is scheduled to do the first shift in the #20 car on Sunday. "Our friends at Thetford/Norcold are bringing a number of their key customers in the Northwest to the race, and we want to put on a good show for them."
With both Dyson cars and the Audi that's won the season's past five races all running on a razor's edge, that's almost a given.