Peugeot on Petit Le Mans pole at ALMS season finale

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Nancy Knapp Schilke, ALMS Correspondent

Peugeot and Audi own first two rows for ILMC penultimate round
Dyson #20 is top ALMS LMP1 team and 9th on the grid

Anthony Davidson turned a flying lap of 1:07.428 (135.611 mph) to take the Petit Le Mans pole at Road Atlanta. Davidson and co-drivers Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais piloting the #7 Peugeot 908 will contest the penultimate Intercontinental Le Mans Cup event for Peugeot Sport as the French manufacturer aims to lock up the ILMC title this weekend.

“It feels great to take the pole. It puts us in the best possible position to win the race tomorrow. So far it's history repeating itself but we had 2nd last year so I want to do one better tomorrow. It’s been 7 weeks [since my surgery] so this is definitely a comeback. I missed my home race at Silverstone, but my teammates came through there.”

Obviously, there is going to be a lot of traffic during the race, and that will be key.

Stephane Sarrazin

Their main rivals will be aiming to force the championship battle to the ILMC 2011 final race in China. Audi Sport’s #1 car landed on the front row with Timo Bernhard’s hot lap at 1:07.556 (135.354 mph); he missed the pole by .128 seconds. Romain Dumas and Marcel Fassler will share the driving duties of the Audi R18 with Bernhard.

"I’m really pleased. Two weeks ago, at Silverstone, I also drove the qualifying session but we were a bit unfortunate with the weather conditions. That’s why I wanted to drive in qualifying again - either here at Road Atlanta or at the ILMC finale at Zhuhai. I managed a good lap; it was at the limit from the beginning to the end,” said the German.

The second row also belongs to the two diesel powered rival teams as Stephane Sarrazin placed the #8 Peugeot third fastest with a 1:07.881 while Dindo Capello was fourth for the Audi team with a 1:08.013,

The top American Le Mans Series LMP1 belonged to the Dyson Racing #29 Mazda Lola with Steven Kane taking the honors. Petit Le Mans is one of the two ILMC events on this side of the world and Kane ended 9th on the grid due to the powerhouse teams that came over to play. The Sebring 12 hour race was the season opener for both the ALMS and the ILMC and it will be again in 2012.

“We had a very good car this morning, but there was a wind in qualifying we have not had all week. That caused the car to touch in a couple places and with the two long straights here, that takes speed out of the car. The car was good in the corners so obviously we have a good car. Tomorrow will be cooler and windy and we will adjust accordingly,” said Kane.

In just the ALMS ranks of LMP1, Klaus Graf was second fastest for the Muscle Milk Aston Martin and he will line up 11th on the grid. Third went to Chris Dyson in the #20 Dyson car; placing him 12th for the waving of the green flag to start the 1,000 miles or 10 hour race. At the penultimate round for the ALMS competition, Dyson Racing’s #20 car took the team championship, along with drivers Guy Smith and Dyson.

Level 5 Motorsports has been contesting the ILMC and the ALMS events this season and one of their two cars landed the LMP2 pole in the hands Luis Diaz. The Mexican laid down a time of 1:12.335 (126.412 mph) in the team’s #055 HPD ARX-01G. For this race, Marino Franchitti was added to the lineup along with team owner Scott Tucker. The #055 is solely running for ALMS points and not under the ILMC banner.

#055 Level 5 Motorsports Lola Honda: Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz, Marino Franchitti
#055 Level 5 Motorsports Lola Honda: Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz, Marino Franchitti

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

“It was a matter of having a clean lap,” Diaz said. “The LMP1 cars didn’t make our lives very easy. We were surprised because we know the speed of the Nissan, and to beat them here is very special. But the Level 5 guys did a great job with the car. They’ve worked around the clock in both Europe and here to prepare the cars. I think this pole is great motivation for the race.”

Second fastest in LMP2 was taken by Jean-Karl Vernay in the #26 Signatech ORECA 03 Nissan on the final lap. Tucker will also be one of the three drivers in the Level 5 team’s #33 car after Christophe Bouchut clocked a 1:12.729 {125.727 mph) to place third in LMP2. Fourth was the Oak Racing #35 with Jacques Nicolet’s time of 1:14.654 (122.485 mph). Signatech, Level 5’s #33 and Oak Racing are campaigning for the ILMC prize.

The top three in the LMGTE class were also listed for the ILMC points to be awarded at the end of the race; even though two of them are from the BMW Team RLL, who like Dyson wrapped up the team, manufacturer and driver (Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand) titles at Laguna Seca. This weekend the team hopes to aid BMW and their goal for the ILMC manufacturer title.

Today’s pole went to the AF Corse Ferrari team with Gianmaria Bruni setting his flying lap at a time of 1:18.699 (116.190 mph) in the F458 Italia. His co-drivers are Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer. “It's always a pleasure when I come here to race. It's always a good battle with others,” said Bruni. “We are battling with the BMWs for the ILMC championship; we are only 10 points ahead. It is very important for us to stay ahead of them for Ferrari and for the AF Corsa team to win this (LMC) championship. Last year we ran out of fuel so we won’t make that mistake again. We've traveled so far, we won’t be trying to stay ahead of the BMWs, for sure we'll be looking for the win.”

Dirk Werner in the RLL BMW M3 was second with his best at 1:18.786 (116.061 mph) and was only .087 seconds off the pole winning time. Third went to Mueller whose best was 1:19.219 115.427 mph).

The GTE-AM class ended with two Ferrari F430s on top and all three fastest teams are searching for ILMC points. Rui Aguas handed the AF Corsa team its second pole of the day with his lap of 1:20.619 (113.422 mph). Rob Kauffman and Justin Bell are the other two drivers for the endurance battle.

“I think the track is very nice, very challenging, up and down. First time for me and for my teammates. For us, having 2 teams on the pole with the Ferraris is good. 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,” said Aguas. Krohn Racing’s Nic Jonsson was second with his best of 1:20.880 (113.056 mph) in their Ferrari. Porsche took the third top slot in qualifying in the hands Richard Lietz in the Proton Competition with a 1:20.897 (113.033 mph) in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Per usual the GT two classes are expected to put on quite a show with their tightly-contested rights for positions.

Kyle Marcelli earned a surprise LMPC pole today. While the Intersport Racing team came to Road Atlanta knowing they are one of the top contenders but no one expected what happened in practice. David Ducote was in the cockpit of the ORECA FLM09 when the crash happened that sent him to the Atlanta Medical Center. The incident took place at Turn 1 which has seen its share of bad crashes. Ducote was sideways after spinning when the Ford GT of Robertson Racing came at speed and taking out the right side of the ORECA. Ducote was awake and alert when he was transported after the ALMS after being taken care of by the ALMS safety and medical team. He will be held overnight as a precautionary measure but it is doubtful he will be cleared to race.

#89 Intersport Racing Oreca FLM09: Kyle Marcelli, Tomy Drissi, Chapman Ducote, David Ducote
#89 Intersport Racing Oreca FLM09: Kyle Marcelli, Tomy Drissi, Chapman Ducote, David Ducote

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

The team already had four drivers listed and besides pole winner Marcelli, Tomy Drissi and Chapman Ducote will attempt to score the win. “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 team did an amazing job to repair the damage car and make qualifying. The hot-shoe Canadian laid down a lap of 1:14.848 (122.168 mph) and said, “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.”

Taking second for the LMPC class was Dane Cameron for the Genoa Racing team, just .743 seconds slower than Marcelli with his best lap at a 1:15.649 (120.874 mph). However the team is listed as an Alternate Starter so the actual final grid will reflect all grid changes after warm-up tomorrow morning.

Third went to the for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team with Ryan Lewis laying down a 1:15.649 (120.874 mph). All the LMPC teams run the ORECAs and like the GT cars, they also have heated battles.

The GT Challenge class of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars was a tight contest for the pole bragging rights. That honor went to Jeroen Bleekemolen for the Black Swan Racing team. It was his third consecutive pole and his fourth this year. The Dutchman turned his best lap at a 1:24.543 (108.158 mph). This weekend his brother Sebastiaan will join he and team owner Tim Pappas.

About the race tomorrow, Bleekemolen said, “There will be so many yellows the first hour doesn't have a lot of bearing. I have a feeling we'll stay on the same lap the whole race so it will be about keeping the nose clean. For us, it’s really not that bad [with traffic] which might be hard to believe with this many cars on the track.”

Second in GTC is the main rival for the championship. TRG’s Spencer Pumpelly had a flying lap of 1:24.596 (108.090 mph).

In other news from Road Atlanta, Michelin announced that they will partner with Highcroft Racing's Project 56 DeltaWing prototype which will debut in 2012. “The DeltaWing presents exciting new territory for Michelin to explore,” said Nick Shorrock, director of competition, Michelin. “Reducing energy consumption and materials — while maintaining, or even enhancing performance — is especially relevant in meeting the needs of consumers worldwide. Project 56 takes fresh ideas and puts them into a dramatic new package and we look forward to these challenges and opportunities."

Qualifying results

#54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup: Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen
#54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup: Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

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