Houston: Qualifying report

WEAVER PUTS DYSON LOLA ON HOUSTON POLE Houston - James Weaver put the No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola B06/10 on the pole for the American Le Mans Series' Lone Star Grand Prix on Thursday, nipping a pair of Porsche RS Spyders at Houston's Reliant ...


Houston - James Weaver put the No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola B06/10 on the pole for the American Le Mans Series' Lone Star Grand Prix on Thursday, nipping a pair of Porsche RS Spyders at Houston's Reliant Park.

Weaver's time of 1:04.459 around the 1.69-mile, nine-turn street circuit was his 14th career pole in the Series. He will start from the point with teammate Butch Leitzinger for Friday's two-hour, 45-minute race, the first for the American Le Mans Series on a street circuit since 2003.

Weaver was a scant 0.022 seconds ahead of Romain Dumas in the No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche, the fastest of the LMP2 cars.

Dyson Racing debuted its new Lola at Sebring in March, and Weaver said the progress has been amazing. He's confident the results will show Friday.

"At Sebring, we were at 60 percent. Here we are getting 80 percent out of the car and engine," Weaver said. "It shows there is a huge amount of potential in it. At Sebring, we were about four seconds off the pace, and here we hope to compete all evening. But it doesn't matter how long you've been doing this or how many times you've done it. This feeling never gets old."

Weaver was about a second faster than the next quickest LMP1 entry, the Audi R8 of Dindo Capello and Allan McNish. The two Sebring winners will start fourth overall after Capello's 1:05.382 lap.

Like many other drivers, Weaver said it took a bit to get used to the bumpy surface at Reliant Park. It's the nature of a street race, he said, but that doesn't make it any easier.

"Usually on streets you get a lot of oversteer, but with no grip and being bumpy it can easily go from oversteer to understeer," he said. "If you throw all caution to the wind, you could really leave it out there or literally come in with no rear end."

Dumas narrowly missed out on becoming the second driver in the history of the Series to put a P2 car on the overall pole position. Ironically, Leitzinger accomplished the feat at Infineon in 2003, a race that he and Weaver went on to win in an LMP675 entry.

"I knew the fastest car would either be a LMP1 or LMP2," Dumas said. "It was the first time for me to qualify the car, and it's on the pole. It's an LMP2 car and to be so close is really good."

Sascha Maassen was second in class and third overall in the other Penske Porsche. The RS Spyder has qualified on the class pole in each of the three Series races it has entered. It has been so strong that Dyson Racing considers the car a threat to win overall.

"Porsche read the rulebook very well and put together a great P2 car," said Dyson Racing owner Rob Dyson. "They avoid the hassle and complications of a turbo by using a normally aspirated engine. That means they are going to be competitive at the same places we are, which is great. Bring 'em on. We are ready for some good competition."

Ron Fellows put Corvette Racing's No. 3 Corvette C6.R on the GT1 pole by the slimmest of margins with a 1:08.090 pass. The Canadian road-racing ace was 0.055 seconds better than the No. 4 sister car. Fellows won his 16th career class pole in the Series and has now won at least one pole in seven of the eight seasons of the American Le Mans Series.

Fellows' history of street racing stretches back more than 15 years, so he knows how to get around them. He said the Reliant Park circuit reminds him of several old-style tracks, similar to the downtown Detroit and Des Moines circuits in Trans-Am.

"This is more of a traditional style street circuit. Most of the bumps are short bumps that are easier to manage," Fellows said. "It kind of reminds me of the old Detroit circuit and Des Moines. A lot of the principles remain the same because you're always having to look. That to me is the cool part of the old-style street racing where the walls were the apexes.

"You're going to have to set (passes) up two or three turns in advance, especially for the good GT2 cars," he added. "They are really nimble through the turns. There isn't a lot of room and a lot of straights. You're going to have to be careful, certainly from the chicane until you get through Turn 6."

Aston Martin Racing's two Aston Martin DBR9s each were less than 0.7 seconds behind the two Corvettes, with Darren Turner in the No. 007 car the fastest at 1:08.427.

The story in GT2 was the run of the hometown team from Risi Competizione and its Ferrari F430GT. Jamie Melo put the No. 62 car on the class pole with a 1:11.209 lap, the first GT2 pole for a Ferrari in the Series.

"The track is very bumpy and is very hard for the cars, but not too much for us with a GT car," Melo said. "Our car is very good over the bumps. It is very easy to manage. The team did a great job, and the car was almost perfect. I could do my qualifying lap very comfortably."

Melo was 0.131 seconds ahead of Patrick Long in the No. 31 Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Another 0.437 seconds back was the Panoz Esperante GTLM of Scott Maxwell. The top five cars all were within a second of each other, which leads everyone to believe this GT2 race will be just as thrilling as Sebring. As a result, Melo and teammate Mika Salo said proper setup will be a key.

"After Sebring, we worked a lot on our dampers," Salo said. "We knew that the track is very bumpy, so we tried to work on that in the setup. The car works well here. We'll be prepared for the race. We won't have much to do."

The Lone Star Grand Prix, the second round of the 2006 American Le Mans Series, is scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT Friday in Houston. It will be broadcast at 1 p.m. EDT Saturday on CBS Sports, the first of five straight Series events on network television. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage at www.americanlemans.com, which also will have IMSA Live Timing & Scoring.


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Allan McNish , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Mika Salo , Darren Turner , Ron Fellows , Rob Dyson , Sascha Maassen , Scott Maxwell , Patrick Long , Romain Dumas , Dindo Capello
Teams Team Penske , Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing