Lime Rock: Series qualifying report

ANOTHER LIME ROCK POLE FOR BRABHAM, PATRÓN HIGHCROFT Brabs brilliant in stunning damp qualifying battle Patrón Highcroft Racing's David Brabham won a stunning wet qualifying session Friday at Lime Rock Park for his second overall pole position ...

Lime Rock: Series qualifying report

Brabs brilliant in stunning damp qualifying battle

Patrón Highcroft Racing's David Brabham won a stunning wet qualifying session Friday at Lime Rock Park for his second overall pole position in the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. Brabham turned in a best lap of 58.106 (92.934 mph) in the HPD ARX-01c that he will drive with Simon Pagenaud. He outpaced Muscle Milk Team CytoSport's Klaus Graf by 0.64 seconds.

Brabham and Patrón Highcroft scored their first overall victory in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón two years ago at Lime Rock. He and Pagenaud currently are on a three-race win streak and lead the LMP championship. And oh yes...Patrón Highcroft is on home ground this weekend. So far, so good for Danbury's finest.

"We have a lot of family and friends and a lot of guests from Patrón and GE. So it was nice to go out and get the pole position," Brabham said. "We don't run too much in the wet. We couldn't remember the last time we did. It was certainly tough in these conditions."

"These conditions" were periods of light to moderate rain during the morning and afternoon. By the time the prototypes began their qualifying session, the rain had stopped but the track still remained damp throughout.

"We really had to fight the car sometimes and snap back," Brabham said. "As the track dried, the car was changing and we made some adjustments to get rid of the understeer I was having. So the team did a great job getting us the pole. I knew Klaus would be our closest competition. They have less weight, more downforce - we've moved to the lower downforce - we were certainly up against him and these conditions. Like I said before the whole team is getting stronger and stronger and this was a fantastic performance by the team."

And Brabham rewarded his crew with five of the six fastest laps in the session. Graf's best lap was a 58.746 (91.921 mph) in the Porsche RS Spyder that he will share with team owner Greg Pickett. Dyson Racing's Guy Smith sat third with a lap of 59.951 in the Mazda-powered Lola coupe that he will drive with Chris Dyson.

Brabham was the season's fifth different overall pole-winner in as many races.

Christophe Bouchut picked up his second LMP Challenge pole of the season for Level 5 Motorsports. His best lap of 1:03.020 (85.687 mph) was just 0.567 seconds better than Intersport Racing's Kyle Marcelli, who will drive with Brian Wong.

Bouchut, who leads the class with Level 5 teammate and team owner Scott Tucker has never raced at Lime Rock, and neither has the ORECA FLM09. But there were no problems for either in qualifying.

"On this track for sure, it is not easy for overtaking especially coming from Europe," Bouchut said. "It is one of those particular aspects you have to play with. You have to find the slower corners to overtake; that is the key here. It is really, really hard. When it is raining, it makes execution even worse. The weather changing also changes the setup. But we'll never really know. So we just have to stay on the track. (Saturday) will be difficult because we have not been able to test the car in really dry conditions. So we'll have to adjust very quickly. But again, that will be the same for everybody."

Through four rounds, the Bouchut/Tucker duo has established itself as the pairing to beat. They won at Sebring, Mazda Raceway and Utah, and were second in class at Long Beach. Bouchut, an overall winner at Le Mans in 1993, has posted the fastest LMPC lap in each of the last three races in addition to his Long Beach pole position.

"It's all a combination of the car, driver and team," he said. "Everything is working so well. I think that is also why we are leading the championship. We worked really hard in all of the practices for the setup. I was pushing the maximum and the results were great."

Alex Figge, driving PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports' entry with Tom Papadopoulos, qualified third in class at 1:04.082 (84.267 mph).

Patrick Long earned his second Lime Rock pole position with a lap of 1:03.904 (84.502 mph) in one of Flying Lizard Motorsports' Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs. Porsche's lone American factory driver was the class pole-winner in 2005 and will go for his third victory at the circuit Saturday with teammate Jörg Bergmeister.

Porsche will start first and second in class for the second time this season; the German marque was 1-2 on the grid in the season-opening race at Sebring. It also hasn't lost at Lime Rock since 2004.

"It's fast and it's dangerous. Racing at Lime Rock is very, very challenging," Long said, "especially across all of the classes. I really like the fact that it's really technical. You have to concentrate on your steering and work with your aero, so there's a big aspect to setup and style. The rain is one of those things that is the same for everybody. I feel like Michelin puts us in a class of our own when it comes to rain tires. Jörg has been really working hard on the set-up and gave me a really good car."

Wolf Henzler qualified second in class for Team Falken Tire in its Porsche that he will share with Bryan Sellers. Henzler, a winner in GT2 at Le Mans this year, set a best lap of 104.378 (83.880 mph). Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo was third in one of the team's two Ferrari F430 GTs at 1:04.391 (83.863 mph). He will drive with Gimmi Bruni, a Lime Rock rookie.

Five different teams were in the top-seven, a testament to what is the most difficult class in the Series.

"It's been tough racing in the last couple of races, so hopefully tomorrow will be a better day," Long said. "I think the competition recently shows the depth of GT. On a bad day, instead of having a third or fourth at worst, you're in seventh or eighth. Just losing a few positions can really change the championship standings. But that also means more gratifying victories."

Jeroen Bleekemolen captured his third straight GT Challenge pole position with a best lap of 1:08.129 (79.261 mph) in Black Swan Racing's Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry. The Dutch pilot was on the class pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Miller Motorsports Park, and was the fastest qualifier in the team's 2010 debut at Long Beach before the car was moved to the back of the grid due to a technical infraction.

The Bleekemolen/Pappas duo went flag-to-flag for a six-hour victory in Monterey and won again two weeks ago at Utah. Bleekemolen, a past LMP2 winner at the Le Mans 24 Hours and Porsche Supercup champion, is racing at Lime Rock for the first time. The circuit is the home track for Pappas and Black Swan, however.

"It was a great session and great day for us," he said. "The weather made it interesting... to see how much the conditions were changing from second to second. You had to be aware of that during qualifying. You never knew what was going to happen. The traffic was not so bad. But we are the slowest class and it's so hard to overtake here as there is not a lot of places to get by.

Bleekemolen qualified 0.604 seconds ahead of TRG's Andy Lally, who will drive with Henri Richard. Velox Motorsport's Shane Lewis was third at 1:09.689 (77.487 mph). Lally and Richard sit second in the class championship and could take the points lead with a good showing. But a third straight win for Black Swan might put Bleekemolen and Pappas near the top as well.

"It's going to be very hard for the championship," Bleekemolen said. "We weren't at Sebring and then we didn't score at all at Long Beach. But we'll never give up until there is no hope anymore."

-source: alms

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