Jani Be Good: Pole Position For Rebellion at Mazda Raceway
Franchitti, Braun on also on prototype poles; Malucelli, Bleekemolen in GT classes
Neel Jani won his second straight pole position in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on Friday with a lap of1:13.429 (109.722 mph) in Rebellion Racing’s No. 12 Rebellion Timepieces/Lemo Connectors/Speedy Garage Toyota-powered Lola coupe. On his first ALMS trip to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Jani went 0.377 seconds quicker in qualifying for Saturday’s American Le Mans Monterey than Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith in the No. 16 Mazda/Thetford/Norcold Mazda-powered Lola.
The three fastest cars Friday were within 0.525 seconds. Klaus Graf qualified third for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in the No. 6 Muscle Milk Honda Performance Development ARX-03a-Honda. Muscle Milk is tied with Rebellion for the lead in the ALMS’ P1 championship.
“We’ve proved in qualifying and in the races that we have a really good pace,” said Jani, who drives with Nick Heidfeld. “But we know ALMS is about strategy and traffic management, especially since the races are shorter than in (the FIA World Endurance Championship).”
Jani was the fastest qualifier at last month’s Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach. Graf and Lucas Luhr came out on top though due to a more timely strategy from the Muscle Milk squad.
“We (have added) more tactics and strategies to get to the same level as Muscle Milk,” Jani said. “So now we are hoping to show them we can get our first overall win this season. The team, the car, drivers, engineers… we’ve been together a long time. So now we know what to do in certain situations and we know what to do to win the race.”
Level 5 Motorsports qualified 1-2 in the class with Marino Franchitti earning his first pole position in the class since 2010. He posted a lap of1:16.642 (105.123 mph) in the No. 551 Siemens/Alpina Watches/Ohiya Casino Resort HPD ARX-03b-Honda that he shares with team owner Scott Tucker.
Franchitti was 0.360 seconds ahead of teammate Ryan Briscoe in the No. 552 Level 5 prototype. The team turned the tables on P2 rival Extreme Speed Motorsports, which finished 1-2 in class at Long Beach.
“After the tough race we had at Long Beach for Level 5, Scott, Ryan, myself and the whole team have been working hard to bounce back strong, and we’ve done that today,” Franchitti said. “The cars (in the class) are very close, and getting (a 1-2 result) was our aim. It was important to get that. The ESM cars are strong, maybe not as strong as at Long Beach, but they’ll be there over the four hours. If we slip up, they’ll be there.”
Johannes van Overbeek qualified third Friday in ESM’s No. 01 Tequila Patrón HPD ARX-03b-Honda at 1:18.591 (102.516 mph). He drives with Ed Brown.
It took Matteo Malucelli just three events to score his first ALMS pole position. The Italian turned a lap of1:22.732 (97.384 mph) in Risi Competizione’s No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia. Driving the car he shares with Olivier Beretta, Malucelli was 0.091 seconds clear of Patrick Long in CORE autosport’s No. 06 Composite Resources Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, making its ALMS debut.
“This is good for me – my first qualifying session and first pole,” Malucelli said. “We had some problems with the car Thursday but our crew fixed it. I have to say thank you to Michelin and the Risi team because they did an amazing job with the car. “I know it will be a tough race, but we’re looking forward to it.
Risi also took the GT pole in the season-opening race at Sebring, but Gianmaria Bruni handled the duties there; Beretta qualified at Long Beach. The team was the fastest qualifier at Mazda Raceway for the first time since 2010.
Porsches held second and third with Bryan Sellers qualifying the No. 17 Team Falken Tire 911 at 1:22.908 (97.178 mph). The top nine cars in class were within 0.883 seconds.
CORE autosport also found its way to the front row in Prototype Challenge presented by Continental Tire. Colin Braun took the class pole position with a lap of 1:18.382 (102.789 mph) in the No. 05 Composite Resources ORECA FLM09. A winner in Monterey last year with Jon Bennett, Braun was 0.546 seconds ahead of ALMS newcomer Renger van der Zande in DragonSpeed Mishumotors’ No. 81 dress-for-less.com ORECA.
Braun credited the No. 05’s new engineer, Travis Lowe, with nailing the qualifying setup on the car.
“We’ve been really quick in every session this weekend,” Braun said. “This is a cool weekend with Travis… a new voice on the radio. He understands what Jon and I are looking for and can help translate it to the car. He’s done a seamless job fitting in.”
Bruno Junquiera qualified third in class at 1:19.076 (101.887 mph) in RSR Racing’s No. 9 Johnson Controls ORECA.
Jeroen Bleekemolen won his second straight GT Challenge pole at third in four season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Alex Job Racing’s Porsche ace set a time of 1:27.296 in the No. 22 WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT3 Cup that he shares with Cooper MacNeil.
A GTC winner in 2012 and 2010 at the circuit, Bleekemolen was 0.111 seconds quicker than Nick Tandy in NGT Motorsport’s No. 30 MOMO Porsche. The AJR and NGT cars qualified in the same order at Long Beach three weeks ago. There, Bleekemolen was 0.121 seconds faster than Sean Edwards.
“We’ve been fast in all practices so the car was good already,” Bleekemolen said. “But you know racing guys like Tandy who is a factory driver for Porsche, and (Andy) Lally and (Damien Faulkner)… you know the competition is really tough so it feels even better to be on pole. The lap was clean, no mistakes, and now we’re looking forward to winning from pole because that hasn’t happened yet this year.”
Lally, the class’s pole-winner at Sebring, qualified third Friday at 1:27.495 in the No. 27 Tully’s Coffee Dempsey Del Piero Racing Porsche he shares with Patrick Dempsey.
Saturday’s American Le Mans Monterey from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the third round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. ESPN2’s coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 12 with live coverage is available on ESPN3 starting at 6:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The Series’ website offers additional content such as live in-car cameras, and timing and scoring for all users around the world. Viewers outside the U.S. can watch all ALMS races live on ALMS.com.