Timo Bernhard rocketed to the overall pole position Friday at Long Beach, giving the rest of the competitors something to fear for Saturday afternoon's Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series race. Bernhard's record-breaking time led a LM P2 freight train of cars that swept the first two rows.
Bernhard's lap time of 1:11.330 around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit gave Penske Racing and Porsche its first overall pole of the year. It wasn't all smooth sailing for the No. 7 car though, as Bernhard was forced to dice through traffic to reel off his flying lap.
"We are very happy to capture the pole position," Bernhard said. "Everything was very tight. We never had a good clean lap. We never had the real number. The last few changes we made were really good. I had about four clear laps. On the street circuit, you get better each lap."
Luis Diaz continued his solid form in the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b, clocking a 1:11.424 lap time to line up alongside the yellow Porsche RS Spyder. Diaz's time was just 0.094 seconds slower than Bernhard's. In fact, the top six qualifiers overall were separated by less than a half a second.
"It was a good day for us," Diaz said. "We were quickest in the morning, and now I had traffic on my good lap and still we are on the front row. I was very happy with the car today. The guys on the Lowe's Fernandez team did a great job in giving me a great car and we know we have a good race car and that is the main thing."
Diaz handled all of the driving duties Friday, as co-driver and team owner Adrian Fernandez was in Mexico City, practicing his NASCAR Nationwide Series car. After testing his Acura here on Thursday, Fernandez will fly back to Long Beach tomorrow in time for the race start.
The Patron Highcroft Racing Acura of David Brabham and Scott Sharp will start third, after Brabham's 1:11.448 lap time. The duo slotted in ahead of the No. 6 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder of Patrick Long and Sascha Maassen, which was fourth quickest. The Andretti Green Racing Acura of Bryan Herta and Christian Fittipaldi rounded out the top-five.
The two Audis ran the sixth and seventh quickest times overall, buried among the P2 runners. The No. 2 Audi R10 TDI of Lucas Luhr turned a 1:11.765 lap time, another class track qualifying record. Luhr edged out the No. 1 entry of Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, which had a best time of 1:11.896.
Luhr and co-driver Marco Werner are coming off the overall victory in St. Petersburg two weeks ago and hope some luck will turn their way this weekend. So far this weekend, the P2 cars have been the ones to beat, and the team feels less optimistic for repeat success.
"Long Beach itself is a nice racetrack, but it doesn't suit our well due to the last two corners which are so tight," Luhr said. "We have the straight (speed) and hopefully with the start, we can catch one or two places. This time we are not on pole, we are sixth. The track favors the lighter cars."
Bernhard, who co-drives the polesitting Porsche RS Spyder with Romain Dumas, thinks the race length could prove to be a factor in the outcome. The 100-minute format provides flexibility in pit strategy, but could also prove costly if teams get caught out because of cautions.
"Lucas mentioned he wants to make up positions at the start, so that's what we have to look out for," Bernhard said. "It's only 100 minutes, so one bad move can lose lots of positions."
Jon Field in the Intersport Racing Lola B06/10 AER rounded out the top-three in P1, qualifying 11th overall.
Jan Magnussen put the No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R on the GT1 pole, clocking a 1:17.059 lap. The Dane's time was over four-tenths quicker than the sister machine of Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin. Magnussen and co-driver Johnny O'Connell will be looking for victory number two of the season after taking top honors in Sebring.
"It was another qualifying record breaker," Magnussen said. "The car was excellent, no problems. We put the car in the pit lane so late, so it was hard to get a clear lap. But the car was great. It was a lot faster than last year. The new fuel and the Michelin tires seems to be the difference."
In GT2, Patrick Pilet became the series' newest first-time polesitter. The Frenchman's track record-breaking 1:19.705 lap in the No. 46 Porsche led a 1-2 sweep for Flying Lizard Motorsports.
"The car was very fast, and the team did a really good job preparing the car," Pilet said. "We were able to make improvements in every session. I went out on light fuel, so I really only had one shot to get it right, and everything went OK for me."
Pilet and co-driver Johannes van Overbeek will also be hoping to take advantage of the shorter race distance to jump ahead of the competition early at the start.
"Tomorrow, the race is just 1 hour and 40 minutes, it's better to start in pole position, and important not to make any mistakes in the race," Pilet said. "Johannes (van Overbeek) and I have to have a good start and good strategy and be very fast during our driver change."
Jorg Bergmeister in the sister No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche turned the second quickest lap time in GT2, a 1:20.137. The No. 62 Risi Competizione entry of Mika Salo and Jamie Melo was the best of the Ferrari contingent in third.
Two significant off-track news items were made Friday. De Ferran Motorsports announced that 2006 Atlantic Champion and former Champ Car star Simon Pagenaud will team with owner/driver Gil de Ferran in the new Panasonic-sponsored Acura. The team, which conducted a test this week in Sebring, will make their competitive debut at the next round in Salt Lake City.
The other news bit confirmed the series has signed a five-year extension with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, to keep the ALMS racing on the streets of Long Beach through 2013.
Rise and shine bright and early tomorrow as warm-up begins at 7:15 a.m. PST. The green flag waves on the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series race at 4:10 p.m. for 100 minutes of high-octane action in southern California.
During the SCCA SPEED World Challenge practice, Tomy Drissi hit the wall hard and was transported to the hospital. It is doubtful that he will race in either the World Challenge or the American Le Mans Series. Drissi was complaining of back pain.
Saturday morning update on Drissi:
Drissi will be released today from the hospital. He has a broken vertebrae and will be in a back brace for up to six weeks. Chris McMurry will replace Drissi as co-driver in the Autocon Motorsports Creation CA06-H Judd for the race.