Neel Jani brings Rebellion pole position for Petit Le Mans

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Neel Jani will seek to defend his 2012 Petit Le Mans title from the pole position after he took the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60-Toyota to the pole for tomorrow’s 10-hour odyssey at Road Atlanta.

Jani, who won last year’s Petit for Rebellion with co-drivers Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi, threw down a lap of 1 minute, 9.254 seconds to claim his fourth career pole in the American Le Mans Series. For this year’s Petit, Jani (pictured, middle) will drive the No. 12 with Prost (pictured, right) and former Formula One competitor Nick Heidfeld (pictured, left).

In qualifying, Jani out-hustled Lucas Luhr, one-half of the ALMS’ back-to-back P1 champions from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Luhr turned in a time of 1 minute, 10.397 in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03c, which he’ll share with his regular teammate Klaus Graf and Romain Dumas.

As for the remaining classes, the P2 pole went to David Brabham, who is helping to send-off the ALMS in its final race at Road Atlanta before merging with GRAND-AM into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Brabham posted a time of 1 minute, 12.668 seconds in the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b that he’ll share with Scott Sharp and Anthony Lazzaro.

Sharp is chasing Level 5 Motorsports’ Scott Tucker for the P2 driver’s championship, in which Tucker currently holds a six-point edge at 149-143. Tucker will co-drive the No. 551 HPD ARX-03b with Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, who appeared as if he’d won the P2 pole but lost his fastest lap, a 1:12.490, after he ran out of fuel late in the session; as a result, his qualifying time was reset to 1:12.792, good enough for second in class.

Also earning class poles:

Prototype Challenge – No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 (Dane Cameron/class points leader Mike Gausch/David Cheng), 1 minute, 14.955 seconds

GT – No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia (Matteo Malucelli/Olivier Beretta/Robin Liddell), 1 minute, 18.861 seconds

GT Challenge – No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Spencer Pumpelly/Nelson Canache, Jr./Madison Snow), 1 minute, 24.118 seconds

The 10-hour, 1,000-mile Petit is slated to begin tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”