BRASELTON, GA, September 24, 2004 — If anyone has not been paying attention so far this season, James Weaver demonstrated why he is rated the fastest driver in the American Le Mans Series, taking his fifth pole – and the Dyson Racing team`s sixth – of the season. And it came in dramatic fashion, on the very last lap of qualifying for Saturday`s seventh annual running of the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
“We were dead lucky to get a fast lap right at the end,” Weaver admitted. The Dyson Racing team had changed transmissions on both of its Thetford / Norcold Lolas prior to the qualifying session, so as to minimize the mileage on the cars` drivetrains prior to the start of tomorrow`s endurance test. That meant that the first five minutes of the 20-minute session were given over to doing a single installation lap out of the pits and then back in, followed by an inspection of the transmission`s plumbing to make sure that nothing was leaking. A red flag halted all on-track activity for several minutes while a car was hauled out of one of the track`s gravel safety traps, and then heavy traffic baulked a couple of Weaver`s attempts to set a quick time.
Meanwhile, the pair of Audi R8s of Marco Werner and Pierre Kaffer and the Reynard-Zytek of Nicolas Minassian traded fast time as the seconds on the qualifying countdown clock ticked away. Weaver`s blazing final 1:12.136 knocked Minassian of the pole by a margin of nearly thee-tenths of a second.
Observers who were not watching closely might have been surprised to see one of the blue-and-white Dyson cars on the pole today, despite the team`s record of five poles in the seven races run so far this season. After setting the 1st and 2nd fastest times in the opening practice session on Thursday, the highest a Dyson car was on the time sheets in the next three sessions was third.
“I told them to go easy on the cars,” said team-owner Rob Dyson. “This race is going to run for ten hours, and if you can not run that long, you can not win. Our cars have been fast all year, but at this race we are focusing on reliability. I did not want to run the cars any harder than we needed to.”
“If it were not for the transmission and the time it took us to get the tire temperatures and pressures right, we would have been in the ‘elevens`,” Weaver confided on his way to the pole-winner`s press conference. “I think this shows what a stunningly good sportscar the Lola is. In terms of sheer speed, I think we have raised the bar. What Dyson Racing has done as a privateer team is pretty remarkable, taking on Audi with pieces that you can buy off the shelf.”
Not that Weaver and his teammates are taking anything for granted. “The Audi R8 may be the best sportscar ever built, “Weaver allowed. “It is dead reliable. And while we may be faster here in qualifying, they will be plenty fast in the race.”
Weaver will be joined in the #16 Thetford / Norcold Lola by Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace, while Chris Dyson will be paired in the #20 car with his Sebring 12-hour and Le Mans 24-hour co-driver, Jan Lammers. The #20 car qualified 6th in the 34-car field after suffering gear-selection problems early in the session. “I think we might have been in the top four otherwise,” said Lammers, who drove the car during the qualifying session.
Last year the #16 Dyson car, with Weaver aboard, led from the start, but only lasted six laps. “We are looking to run the whole race this year, with both cars,” Rob Dyson said. “If we do that, we will have a good result.”