By Lisa Davidson
- Dyson Racing on pole for street circuit
- Smith earns fastest time at Long Beach
- BMW takes GT pole, Corvette second
Qualifying for tomorrow's feature race began at 5:05 PM PDT with the 7 GT Challenge class entries. Taking the pole for this class was Black Swan Racing's Jeroen Bleekemolen, driving the Sebring-winning entry #54 car. All 7 GTC cars are Porsche 911s on Yokohama tires.
"It was a good qualifying for us," said Bleekemolen. "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. We've come a long way since last year. We didn't get the result we wanted but our guys learned and took so many poles and wins after that."
Next on the track was the largest class, the GTs. Sebring class winner Joey Hand, driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan's BMW Team RLL, along with his co-driver Dirk Mueller, put their Beamer on pole for the GT class. Joining them on the front row will be the #4 Compuware Corvette Racing entry, with the pole lap driven by veteran Danish racer Jan Magnussen.
"It's been a good year and all about momentum. This is one my favorite venue and I've wanted to win here for a long time," Hand said. "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. This place is all about margins. When you're comfortable in the car and can use two inches of margin, you can go fast. I only used a half-inch today."
The qualifying session tended to lag at times due to the many classes and the very small sizes of all classes except the GTs. Third to qualify were the 6 Le Mans Prototype Challenge cars, all Orecas with Michelin tires. Salt Lake City's Gunnar Jeanette won the LMPC pole with a time of 1:17:736. He will share the car tomorrow with Ricardo Gonzalez of Monterrey, Mexico.
"We had both our cars on the podium at Sebring and now our first pole," smiled Jeanette. "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."
To satisfy external factors, ALMS split its prototype class - successfully unified in 2010 - back into two classes, which results in only 2 entries in each class for the Long Beach race. This lead to a rather bizarre qualifying session. While it was never announced, the P2 cars never came out to qualify!
Fortunately, that strange situation was mitigated by a very exciting qualifying duel between veterans Klaus Graf and Guy Smith. With a fastest time of 1.14.001, Smith eventually won the pole in his Dyson Racing Mazda Lola with Dunlop tires. Even though there were only two cars, the rivalry between the two teams was very evident as was their intense preparation, which should bode well for the race.
"I did a 16.7 this morning and my engineers told me we needed to get it down to the 14's for qualifying and I was skeptical," said Smith. "This is a credit to our engineers on a circuit like this, you are second guessing what the track is going to be like for a qualifying session eight hours after you first ran on it."
Former Champ Car standouts Cristiano daMatta and Bruno Junqueira will also take the green flag tomorrow as new additions to Paul Gentilozzi's Jaguar effort in the GT class.