Goikhberg, Fant notch highest quals positions of season
BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct.16, 2013) - As the sun peaked through the clouds at Road Atlanta, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda participants revved their engines for the final qualification session of the 2013 season. Drivers took to the circuit for the 30-minute qualifying round after running two practice sessions earlier in the day. Debris on track halted the session for eight minutes, but a quick track inspection allowed the field to restart.
In both practice sessions and qualifications, Comprent Motor Sports' Sean Rayhall topped the time sheets. The Winston, Ga.-native claimed his 10th pole of the year with the fastest time on track today. On his eighth trip around the circuit he posted a time of 1:19.218, which held as the top speed as Rayhall waited in the pits with four minutes to go once the field went green again.
Rayhall had a busy day at the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit today and will continue to have a busy weekend pulling double duty in the Prototype Challenge (PC) entry for 8Star Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón (ALMS). Rayhall ran the fastest PC time in the ALMS test session, which concluded immediately before the start of Lites qualifications. Rayhall had to quickly adjust from the 8Star Motorsports entry to his No. 14 Comprent Motor Sports Élan DP02, 2.0L Mazda powered entry.
"It was interesting to get out of the PC car with 8Star Motorsports and jump into the Lites car," Rayhall said. "It was a different feeling and we can see the field was very tight today. I got the pole but (Mikhail) Goikhberg isn't far behind and neither is (Ryan) Booth so I think it's going to be a good race. I really want to thank my Comprent Motor Sports guys and Robert Talbott for bringing us here to the championship weekend."
Current series points leader Rayhall will have a battle on his hands for the races at the 16th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda, with the top three drivers separated by only two tenths of a second. Rayhall has a lead in the current Lites 1 (L1) class points standings, and Comprent Motor Sports is just one point back from Performance Tech in the team standings entering Rounds 13 and 14. Rayhall is always aiming for a win, but if he doesn't take the checkers first he knows strong podium finishes could land himself and the team 2013 titles.
"We have a strong points run going and want to maintain that," Rayhall explained. "Hopefully we grab a win tomorrow and if not we are looking for a solid points weekend and two steady podiums."
A steady driver all season long - Mikhail Goikhberg of JDC Motorsports - will complete the front row with Rayhall for Race One at Road Altanta. The second-best qualifying time is Goikhberg's best of the season, and the Vancouver, BC-native will look to extend his six podiums already garnered this year.
Just one hundredth of a second back from Goikhberg in qualifications was Performance Tech's Ryan Booth. Booth enters the final two rounds of the season just 20 points behind Rayhall for the championship lead. With his team at the top of the group standings, Booth will be fighting for the checkers. He will form the second row on the starting grid mirror-to-mirror with Richard Fant. The Ferrari of Houston driver's fourth-place starting position marks the highest of the year for Fant. Fant was the top Masters qualifier, followed by Jon Brownson of Eurosport Racing and JDC Motorsports' Gerry Kraut.
In the Lites 2 (L2) category, Brian Alder of BAR1 Motorsports notched the fastest time, five-tenths better than the next closest competitor - Jerome Mee of Alta Velocita Racing. Alder and Mee each have one race weekend under their belt this year, with Alder sweeping the event at Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course and Mee experiencing the Lites series for the first time at Circuit of the Americas.
The Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series will be back on track tomorrow for Race One at 12:50 p.m. ET. Follow along on Twitter @IMSALites for updates throughout the 30-minute sprint.