DAVIDSON DOES IT AGAIN IN PETIT LE MANS QUALIFYING
Second straight pole position for Peugeot's British ace
Seeking a third straight victory at Road Atlanta, Team Peugeot Total is on pole position again for the 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda. Anthony Davidson set a blistering 1:07.428 (135.611 mph) lap in qualifying Friday in the diesel-powered Peugeot 908 coupe that he will drive in Saturday’s 1,000-mile/10-hour race with Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud.
The British driver in the French car was 0.128 seconds quicker than Timo Bernhard for rival Audi Sport Team Joest. Bernhard set a lap of 1:07.556 (135.354 mph) in the Audi R18 that he will share with Romain Dumas and Marcel Faessler in the final round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
“It feels great to take the pole,” said Davidson, who was last year’s fastest qualifier. “It puts us in the best possible position to win the race tomorrow. So far it's history repeating itself. We finished second last year so I want to do one better tomorrow.”
The battle between the Audi and Peugeot factory efforts will renew Saturday at Road Atlanta for the fourth time. Their four cars were within 0.585 seconds following qualifying.
Peugeot has won the last two years following a nine-year winning streak for Audi. Stéphane Sarrazin qualified third Friday in a second Peugeot 908 at 1:07.881 (134.706 mph). He will drive with Franck Montagny – his co-winning driver the last two years – and Alexander Wurz.
Petit Le Mans is the first race for Davidson following a collarbone injury during the summer. He missed a Peugeot victory at Silverstone – his home track – earlier this month in the most recent Intercontinental Le Mans Cup round.
“It’s been seven weeks (since the surgery) so this is definitely a comeback,” Davidson admitted. “I missed my home race at Silverstone but my teammates came through there. It is great to work with Simon and Sébastién, and I know we can work well tomorrow. We'll be going for the best results tomorrow as well.”
Luis Diaz saved his best for last in LMP2 with a final-lap flyer to take the class pole position for Level 5 Motorsports. Diaz, who has two podium finishes at Road Atlanta in the last two years, set a time of 1:12.335 (126.412 mph). He will drive his HPD ARX-01g with team owner Scott Tucker and Marino Franchitti.
Diaz leap-frogged three cars to move to first in class.
“It was more about getting a clean lap,” Diaz said. “Those other guys were pulling some big laps and were doing really well. Without the power on the straight-line, we have to take some more risks to keep ahead and not get behind. But that’s what makes this series so special; you have a lot to consider and passing to take place.”
The Mexican star was 0.305 seconds clear of Jean-Karl Vernay in Signatech Nissan’s ORECA 03-Nissan prototype. That car was quickest in three of the four official practice sessions. Vernay is driving with Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez. The second Level 5 HPD qualified third with Christophe Bouchut’s lap of 1:12.729 (125.727 mph); he will share the car with Tucker and Joao Barbosa.
“We know the speed of the Nissan and to be able to beat them today, it says a lot,” Diaz said. “We know they work 24 hours a day and all the time, so it's a big motivation for tomorrow.”
Intersport Racing capped a traumatic day with Kyle Marcelli’s third LMP Challenge pole position of the season in the ORECA FLM09 that he will drive with Tomy Drissi and Chapman Ducote. He set a best lap of 1:14.848 (122.168 mph) only hours after teammate David Ducote was transported from Road Atlanta following a hard crash at the end of Friday morning’s practice.
Ducote sat sideways at Turn 1 at the end of the session and was hit by Robertson Racing’s Ford GT flush on the right-hand side at nearly full speed. Ducote was alert and awake when medical personnel arrived, and he had full movement in his extremities. He was taken to Atlanta Medical Center as a precaution due to the impact and force of the crash. Ducote was kept for overnight observation.
“Certainly there was extra motivation,” Marcelli said. “It was planned that I would finish the last 15 minutes this morning and do a mock qualifying run. But we called David in, ironically he did one more lap and that was the one he crashed on.”
The Intersport crew repaired the damage car in between the end of practice and the start of qualifying. It took Marcelli six flying laps to move to first in class, and he improved each lap from then on.
He was 0.743 seconds faster than Genoa Racing’s Dane Cameron; he drove with Jordan Grogor, Bassam Kronfli and Aldous Mitchell. Ryan Lewis was third in class for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports at 1:15.649 (120.874 mph). He will drive with Ken Dobson and Henri Richard.
“I trusted our engineers and our staff with rebuilding the car, so I knew I just had to go to work,” Marcelli said. “A victory here would be special, and it's something we go after. Unfortunately we're not in the race for the championship, but we're still out here to win races and work hard. We've built a good continuity in the team and between co-drivers so I think we have a good shot.”
AF Corse’s Gianmaria Bruni earned his second GTE Pro pole position in as many ALMS races. He set a lap of 1:18.699 (116.190 mph) in the Ferrari F458 Italia that he will drive with Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer. At Sebring in March, Bruni was the fastest qualifier in an AF Corse Ferrari F430 GT.
“It's always a pleasure when I come here to race. It's always a good battle with others,” said Bruni, who finished third last year with Risi Competizione in his first Petit Le Mans. “Being fast is all about the foot. I think this team and the car is a great package. They did some testing early and over the weekend. When we came here the car was really good straightaway. We made small changes round after round in each session so it was never a lot of changes.”
Bruni outpaced BMW Motorsports’ two BMW M3 GTs for pole position. Dirk Werner was the quickest of the BMW drivers at 1:18.786 (116.061 mph), just 0.087 seconds behind Bruni. Dirk Müller, who clinched the ALMS GT drivers’ championship two weeks ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Joey Hand, was third in the M3 GT; the pairing will drive with Andy Priaulx.
The top 10 cars were within a second, yet another close qualifying session for the class.
“We are battling with the BMWs for the ILMC championship; we are only 10 points ahead,” Bruni said. “It is very important for us to stay ahead of them for Ferrari and for the AF Corse team to win this championship. Last year we ran out of fuel (in the Risi car) so we won’t make that mistake again. We've travelled so far, we won’t be trying to stay ahead of the BMWs, for sure we'll be looking for the win.”
AF Corse also earned pole position in GTE Am thanks to Rui Aguas’ lap of 1:20.619 (113.422 mph) in a Ferrari F430 GT. In addition to Petit Le Mans being his return to the ALMS, it’s also Aguas’ first race at Road Atlanta. He will team with Rob Kauffman and Justin Bell. Aguas went 0.261 seconds quicker than Nic Jonsson in Krohn Racing’s Ferrari F430 GT.
In addition to Petit Le Mans being Aguas’ return to the Series, it’s also his first race at Road Atlanta. He will team with Justin Bell and Rob Kauffman.
“I think the track is very nice, very challenging, up and down,” he said. “This is the first time for me and for my teammates (driving together at Road Atlanta). For us, having two teams on the pole with the Ferraris is a very good day. We had some problems before qualifying and got those taken care of before this session. So it shows a lot for our team and for the Ferrari.”
After the Krohn Ferrari – also being driven by team owner Tracy Krohn and Michele Rugolo – was Richard Lietz and Christian Ried in the Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Leitz’s best lap was a 1:20.897 (113.033 mph).
Jeroen Bleekemolen won his fourth GT Challenge pole position and third in a row for Black Swan Racing in his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. The Dutch driver set a best lap of 1:24.543 (108.158 mph) in the entry he will share with brother Sebastiaan and team owner Tim Pappas, who also leads the class driver’s championship.
Black Swan leads the team championship over TRG, which will start second after Spencer Pumpelly’s lap of 1:24.596 (108.090 mph). He will drive with Duncan Ende and Peter Ludwig; the trio were winner in the last ALMS race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“I have a feeling we'll stay on the same lap the whole race so it will be about keeping the nose clean,” Bleekemolen said. “There will be so many yellows the first hour so it doesn't have a lot of bearing. For us, (traffic is) really not that bad which might be hard to believe with this many cars on the track.”
The speed differentials between the fastest prototypes and the GTC cars in the passing zones are extreme, many of the drivers said. Bleekemolen hopes that patience won’t wear thin among the faster competitors.
“I talked with Rebellion (Racing team) that I raced with at Sebring,” he said. “It was so hard to pass in Sebring, and it’s so tight here. Most guys here will stay behind you and they won't push and take risks, so we can just keep going at our maximum.”
Dion von Moltke qualified third in TRG’s other Porsche. He will drive with Ben Keating and Jim Norman.
The 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda is set for 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 1 from Road Atlanta. The race will air on ABC at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2. Live coverage will be available in the U.S. on ESPN3 or outside the U.S. on americanlemans.com. Ticket and schedule information is available on the ALMS schedule page.