Nancy Knapp Schilke, ALMS correspondent
Klaus Graf set the fastest lap for the American Le Mans Series teams in qualifying for the 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The German’s flying lap was a 1:47.536 for a speed of 125.205 mph on the 3.740 mile Sebring International Raceway. Graf was the fastest non-diesel LM P1 car and fourth overall behind the three Audi R18s. Lucas Luhr returns to the cockpit with Graf and this year they will contest the 2012 season for the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team in a different prototype. The team made the switch to one of the HPD ARX-03a P1 cars. Third driver for the season opener in the #6 car is Simon Pagenaud.
“Obviously, the team is getting acclimated to the new car. A new car is always a lot of work. This is an all-new car so that a bit of challenge. So everyone involved such as Wirth Research, HPD and the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing have put a lot of effort into it for this event. It was a big effort to first get the car running, then testing and how to set up. And now this is a reward for us including our partners, Michelin, with the tires,” said Graf.
Especially in qualifying-you have nothing to win on your first lap.
In the LM P2 ALMS class the #055 with Christophe Bouchut at the wheel of the HPD ARX-03b landed the pole. The Level 5 Motorsports team ended sixth overall on the LM P2 grid, and might have been higher up had it not been for an early incident. Team owner Scott Tucker and Joao Barbosa were no doubt as surprised as everyone when they were the best for the ALMS P2 classification.
Said Bouchut after his crash at Turn 1 which destroyed the engine cover: "I had to decide to do something, so I tried to go to the left, but I hit the wall and I spun. From my perspective, at that time, there was nothing else I could do, or else the car would have hit me and then it would have been worse than what happened. The exit of this pit lane is dangerous and we need some help from the drivers when anyone is coming on to the track. Everybody has to watch their mirrors. Especially in qualifying-you have nothing to win on your first lap.”
With a third place overall in the LM GT, Jan Magnussen is the highest place ALMS GT-Pro and therefore landed the series pole. Magnussen had a best lap time of 1:58.996 (113.147 mph) in the #03 Corvette Racing C6 ZR1. His co-drivers for the Sebring endurance are Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor.
“For sure there is a lot of difference -- 2.5 seconds difference (between last year’s and this year’s Corvette). It is a big step forward for the category, but I think it is evenly matched. I don’t think we made the best of (qualifying) at the time, but we made the best of it at the end. It is super competitive and we have to be 100 percent every time we go out. Qualifying is the first time for everyone to show what they can really do and I think it will be 12 hours of really hard racing,” Magnussen said.
Prototype Challenge only runs as a class in the ALMS and every year the field grows. All teams use the ORECA FLM09, and the title fight is very close by the end of the season. RSR Racing took the pole with Bruno Junqueira turning a lap at 1:54.510 (117.579 mph). Joining the Brazilian for the 12 hour race will be Tomy Drissi and Roberto Gonzalez.
“This pole gives our team some good morale for this race. The team told me to be patient and bring the car home and we will be fine. This is the first time I have driven this car. I love it. On the first lap, I felt the brakes and they were great. They really worked well. So I said, ‘Hey, it’s race time. So let’s go.’ And the car was great. Now, we are ready for the race. It should be exciting,” said Junqueira.
There are no season long entries in the GT-AM class this year.
The GT Challenge class is ready to start their new season and Sean Edwards wasted no time taking the GTC pole for the #30 MOMO NGT. The class does not contest the WEC and is a spec class of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Edwards’ best lap was a 2:06.674 (106.289 mph) which he will co-drive with Carlos Kauffmann and Henrique Cisneros.
Edwards commented, "It's a real difficult track. The team has put together a good car. We were all quite close as you could see in qualifying. It is just about putting the lap together. Last year, unfortunately, we didn't qualify because the car was crashed right before qualifying. This year we came back and we put it on the pole, which is a great place to start, and hopefully we will be there at the end of the race."