Graf Sets VIR Speed Record
ALTON, Va. – Klaus Graf and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing cemented their place in the history books Friday at Virginia Int’l Raceway.
Graf set an all-time track record en route to pole position for Saturday’s VIR 240 – the first race at the circuit for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
His lap of 1:35.434 (123.352 mph) bested the previous record: a 1:36.3 from a Benetton ex-F1 car in 2004. Graf was .932 second quicker than Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith in the No. 16 Lola-Mazda that is running a flywheel KERS hybrid system for the first time this season.
“It feels good to set the track record here,” Graf said. “It is a beautiful facility. I think all of the drivers love the layout and variety, elevation changes, and the technical feel. We had another half second but I hit the traffic wrong. It’s hard to not be able to show exactly what you have, but we’ll take the qualifying time.”
Graf, Luhr and the rest of the Muscle Milk gain hope Saturday’s race marks the end of a two-race losing streak. The pairing lost at Road America by only 0.083 seconds after going down four laps early, and a broken gear actuator at Baltimore resulted in a third-place class finish at Baltimore.
Chris Dyson qualified Dyson Racing’s No. 20 Lola-Mazda third in P1 at 1:37.031 (121.322 mph).
Usually in a race as long as Saturday’s, pole position may not mean much. Not so at VIR, Graf says.
“It’s really a one-lane racetrack, so you want to be out front to control the pace of the field,” he said. “The speed difference (between the five ALMS classes) is so different. Track position early in the race will be important so we can run our own strategy and our own race. The key for us is to make it to the 70 percent to score points. Our goal is to run trouble free all day without any mistakes.”
Johannes van Overbeek earned his and Extreme Speed Motorsports’ first ALMS pole position with a lap of 1:45.988 (111.069 mph) in the No. 01 Ferrari F458 Italia. The GT battle was its usual tight self with seven cars within 0.692 seconds.
“We had a great test here in June, and we came here with the same setup,” van Overbeek said. “The Patrón Ferrari is really tailor-made for this track. It’s a pleasure to drive our car here. It speaks to the mid-engine package the Ferrari has. The car is good under braking and there are quite a few hard braking areas.”
Van Overbeek, driving with Scott Sharp, ended the session .371 second clear of BMW Team RLL’s Dirk Müller in the No. 56 BMW M3 GT. Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin was third at 1:46.409 (110.630 mph) in the No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1.
Gavin held the point for the most of the session before van Overbeek and the Ferrari came to life. The ESM pilot took the provisional pole with three minutes left at 1:46.409 only to watch Gavin post the same time on his next lap. Van Overbeek would have been awarded pole as he posted the lap time first, but he left no doubt and improved his final trip around the circuit.
“This is the third year of our program, and it seems to be the magic year for teams to gel or not,” said van Overbeek, who drove with Sharp to the team’s first win in July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. “For ours, that is the case. We were able to develop the cars properly, push the setup and try things that hopefully make the car faster. It’s hard fighting against manufacturer teams, and it’s good to let them know we’re here.”
Martin Plowman took P2 pole position after another duel with Christophe Bouchut. Plowman, in the No. 37 Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan, set a lap of 1:38.043 (120.070 mph). He and David Heinemeier-Hansson will try for their third class win of the season. If trends mean anything, then Saturday could be a good day for the duo. Conquest won the last two races in which Plowman won pole: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America.
“The stats speak for themselves. When we have pole, we have a fast car,” Plowman said. “There were a few times this year we should have gotten the pole, and we didn’t. It’s the same with wins.”
Bouchut finished the session 0.422 seconds off Plowman’s pace. The two swapped fast laps eight times before Bouchut had consecutive offs that ruined his final laps in Level 5 Motorsports’ HPD ARX-03b. Luis Diaz was third in class at 1:39.093 (118.797 mph) in Level 5’s No. 95 entry.
It would be fair to call Plowman’s pole a bit of a surprise. Level 5 was quickest in Friday’s two practices and Thursday’s test session.
“In practice we were far from where we needed to be,” Plowman admitted. “We were on the edge of losing our patience. The 055 car was killing us on time sheets; we thought maybe they are running fresher tires. When it came to qualifying times we rested our thoughts and went for it. It was far from being our best car. We made a lot of changes that were a gamble, but they paid off.”
Prototype Challenge featured another back-and-forth fight – this time a battle between four drivers. CORE autosport’s Colin Braun came out on top with a lap of 1:41.006 (116.548 mph) to earn pole position by the slimmest of margins – .001 second over Kyle Marcelli in Merchant Services Racing’s No. 8 car.
“I’d like to say (he found the .001 second) at Turn 10 where it takes a lot of guts,” Braun joked. “I really love this track. It’s a lot of fun as we all saw today. Hats off to my guys; they did a great job, and we were able to get a little bit more than the others.”
Braun won his second ALMS pole of the season in the No. 05 ORECA FLM09 he drives with Jon Bennett. They sit second in the class championship behind CORE teammate Alex Popow.
Braun, Marcelli, RSR Racing’s Bruno Junqueira and CORE’s Tom Kimber-Smith – who was third-fastest at 1:41.269 (116.245 mph) – traded fast laps during the session. In all, provisional pole switched hands 12 times between the quartet.
“We kept going quicker and quicker,” Braun said. “We can only do so much to our cars setup-wise (due to the rules), so it makes us all in a tight box. This certainly is a great track when you’re by yourself. But you throw some GT and P1 cars out there and it starts to narrow down.”
Damien Faulkner earned his fourth GT Challenge pole in five rounds and his fifth on the season for Green Hornet Racing. He set a lap of 1:52.426 (104.709 mph) in the No. 34 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup and topped second-place qualifier Jeroen Bleekemolen by .370 second in the latest battle between the two.
Faulkner and Peter LeSaffre look for their second victory of the season Saturday, having won in the season’s second round at Long Beach.
“We’ve had a good car all season to be honest,” Faulkner said. “We just haven’t collected points on raceway for various reasons. I’ve just steered it around the track today, really. I’m happy and looking for a good result tomorrow.”
Bleekemolen set a time of 1:52.796 (104.365 mph) in NGT Motorsport’s No. 30 Porsche that he drives with Henrique Cisneros. The Dutch driver has won three times this year, each with a different team – the most recent with Alex Job Racing at Road America. Faulkner is keen to end that streak but the task won’t be easy.
“This is a fantastic circuit, one of the best I’ve been to,” he said. “In many places there is just a single line (for traffic). There is really no room for us to go unless we pull off in the grass.”
TRG’s Spencer Pumpelly qualified third at 1:52.969 (104.206 mph) in the No. 66 Porsche he shares with Emilio Di Guida. The No. 66 was later disqualified following technical inspection for an exhaust system that was out of compliance. That moved JDX Racing’s No. 11 Porsche to third on the GTC grid. Michael Valiante – who pairs with Chris Cumming – posted a lap of 1:53.151 (104.038 mph).