BMW, Muscle Milk lead wet ALMS qualifying in Austin

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BMW Team RLL has a deep bench of talent. When it became apparent Maxime Martin would be unavailable for this weekend’s American Le Mans Series race weekend at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, there was only one replacement: Joey Hand, a BMW Team RLL veteran and former class champion who has only raced in ALMS part-time in 2012 and 2013 due to his DTM commitments.

Hand, back driving with Bill Auberlen for the first time since 2009, took the No. 55 BMW Z4 to the GT class pole in damp conditions in Austin with a best time of 2:17.178.

“Considering I was supposed to be floating around my pool here, this is a great day for me,” Hand said. “The difference for me is being in the black car. I know all the guys, I’ve been here a long time, different engineer, but I know the team. It’s nice to be back with Bill Auberlen, we joked that we’re putting the band back together. For sure we’re not the quickest car in the dry, but in the wet we were sure fast.”

Hand outqualified the two Corvettes, teammate John Edwards in the No. 56 BMW and Patrick Long in CORE autosport’s No. 06 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, a new tub for that team after being caught up in the start line accident at Baltimore.

Lucas Luhr delivered Muscle Milk Pickett Racing its fifth straight overall and P1 class pole in the team’s HPD ARX-03c. Marino Franchitti took the P2 class pole in Level 5’s No. 552 HPD ARX-03b, with Renger van der Zande (PC, 8Star/DragonSpeed Mishumotors) and Damien Faulkner (GTC, TRG) also scoring class poles. It’s the first poles of the season for the latter two.

The eighth round of the 2013 season, another two-hour, 45-minute affair, goes green at 3:30 p.m. CT on Saturday.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.