SEBRING, Fla. -- Frank Biela broke his own track record this afternoon en route to claiming the pole for Saturday's 50th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. In doing so, Biela hustled his immaculately prepared Joest Audi R8 around the notoriously...
SEBRING, Fla. -- Frank Biela broke his own track record this afternoon en route to claiming the pole for Saturday's 50th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. In doing so, Biela hustled his immaculately prepared Joest Audi R8 around the notoriously rough 3.7-mile circuit in 1:48.029 (123.300 mph).
"We had a good car from the beginning," Biela explained moments after recording his third American Le Mans Series pole. "In the tire tests in January, we were really quick then. In the sessions this morning the car was excellent.
"When I went out, I felt that the tire, because of the outside temperature and everything, was working very well in the first lap. Unfortunately, I met another person on the circuit and I tried to do a second one and the same thing happened and it was just by chance that both laps were within a few hundredths. But then I decided to come in to wait and see what [teammate] Dindo [Capello] was going to do."
Capello, however, could not match the pace of Biela's Audi R8. "It's dej? vu, like last year unfortunately. I'm always second here at Sebring. It was a little slippery compared to this morning, but it was ok."
The No. 50 Panoz LMP01 of David Brabham, Jan Magnussen, and Eric Van de Poele qualified fourth overall and third in LMP900. "We are trying hard," Brabham stated. "We have a new aero package, but the package is only half complete from where we want to be. We're trying to get a nice balance out there, but every time we change one thing, it seems like something else changes to upset the balance of the car."
The No. 38 Champion Audi qualified fifth, followed closely by the No. 51 Panoz, the two new Cadillacs, the No. 36 Riley & Scott, and the Doran Racing Dallara Judd.
Johnny Kane turned in the surprise of the day behind the wheel of the No. 11 MG Lola. "The car actually felt a little unbalanced. The track has gone away but the car's been going very well in testing. It's taken us a little while this week to get up to speed, but I think the team's done a good job."
Not bad for a brand new car.
"We've done six days testing in total -- but no 24 hour endurance yet."
Theoretically, Kane and his team should have the advantage over the heavier LMP cars when it comes to fuel consumption and tire wear. But can they challenge for the overall win?
"It's a long race, you never know. It would be nice just to be anywhere close to them [the Audis] really. I think our pace in the race should be pretty close to what we ran in qualifying. They're obviously still two and half seconds in front which is pretty major really, so we'll work on the car tomorrow. I'd certainly like to give them a run for their money."
Not surprisingly, the millennium yellow Corvette C-5Rs swept the top two spots in GTS qualifying. Ron Fellows claimed the pole with a time of 1:59.699 in the No. 3 Corvette while his teammate Andy Pilgrim recorded the second fastest time in the No. 4 Corvette.
"The track was pretty slick," Fellows explained. "We've gotten faster but more durable. We've concentrated on long runs and balance and set up for that. We feel pretty confident than we're going to be much stronger than we have been in the past through a tank of fuel. That's critical in the conditions that we have here at Sebring. It's going to be hot, slick, and very uncomfortable in the car."
"We've had a number of problems here in the past and most of them were things that never happened again. But this is our fourth time, so fourth time is lucky, we hope!"
The No. 46 Team Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper, the No. 86 Larbre Competition Viper, and the No. 77 Pro Drive Ferrari 550 Maranello posted the next three quickest times in GTS.
Interestingly, the No. 0 Rafanelli Ferrari failed to post a time during qualifying. "We knew it was an aggressive plan to make this race, but really, we had no choice but to attempt it," Rafanelli said. "Virtually all systems are changed from the FIA GT car we ran last season. We've been working 17-hour days to get here. We tried to compress a calendar but the normal difficulties that a team overcomes, with time left us just about exactly an hour short. We came here to race and that we will."
It was business as usual in the GT class as Sascha Maassen captured his fifth ALMS pole near the end of the 25-minute qualifying session in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3-RS with a time of 2:07.460.
"I always like to react. I don't like to put my time in and sit and wait and let the others beat my time. I prefer to know what they did and I hope that I can go a little bit quicker. And it worked out this time. But this time was even more difficult because somebody has put dirt, like sand, into the hairpin and I lost a lot time there. Every lap there I was going sideways. I knew I really had to give everything to manage to catch up again and be quicker than the lap time that I knew was the pole position time. It worked out but it was very, very close."
After BMW announced its withdrawal from the ALMS earlier this year, it seemed as if the Alex Job cars would run circles around the rest of the GT class. But today's qualifying seemed to prove otherwise.
"I must say in one way I am surprised because the competition is very, very good. There are several cars in there that beat my pole position time from last year. We have the same equipment that they have. We just have the advantage of the Michelin tire that is good. But as you can see the Yokohama and Pirelli is very, very close. I thought that would be a bigger advantage for us. Of course Alex Job knows the car extremely well. We have last year's car. The car is very, very good."
Unlike last year, Maassen and teammate Lucas Luhr will contest the event without the aid of a third driver.
"That's the plan and I'm not sure if it was a good one. But Emmanuel [Collard] was not available and we wanted some body like him. He was of course with Cadillac so we decided to do it on our own. I'm absolutely not sure if it was the right decision. It's very hot here. Let's see after 12 hours."
If the weather remains as warm as it has been over the course of the last several days, the German duo could be in trouble.
"It's definitely much hotter than an open car. The problem is that the air is not getting better because the air is stuck in the car. We are now going to leave a window open and I hope that helps. But still the car heats up so much that we are going to suffer."