Laguna Seca Qualifying Battle

The battle between the Panoz and BMW marques continued Saturday at Laguna Seca Raceway, with the radical front-engine Panoz Roadsters overturning Friday's results and taking the front row for today's VISA Sportscar Championships. ...

The battle between the Panoz and BMW marques continued Saturday at Laguna Seca Raceway, with the radical front-engine Panoz Roadsters overturning Friday's results and taking the front row for today's VISA Sportscar Championships. Formula One veteran Eric Bernard and Indianapolis 500 vet Johnny O'Connell both broke the track sports car record at the 42-year-old facility and will start up front for the two-hour, 45-minute grind. The Panoz entries trailed the BMW V12 prototype of J.J. Lehto going into Saturday's qualifying, but Bernard posted a speed of 106.04 miles an hour to eclipse the mark of 105.297 set in 1998 by Ricardo Zonta in a Mercedes. It was the Panoz marque's third pole of the inaugural American Le Mans Series season. It also broke the Professional Sports Car Racing mark at Laguna of 104.212 set in 1997 by Andrea Montermini. O'Connell's speed of 105.58 and Lehto's of 105.49 also broke the track standard. While the Panoz entries took the front row, the BMW prototypes will start from the second row. Lehto was third and Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., posted a speed of 104.57 for the fourth spot in the second BMW. Bernard, who will be teamed with David Brabham of England for the race, also took a pole at Portland earlier in the campaign. The first Panoz pole came when Denmark's Jan Magnussen, O'Connell's co-driver, grabbed the top spot at Mosport in Canada. "The important thing is the race tomorrow," Bernard said in the press box. "I want to be up here tomorrow night. This is my third race here but I'm not in good shape coming in here. Every time is like my first time here because it's a very technical track." "On my run, I got a little bit lazy," O'Connell said. "I was playing cat and mouse with Eric. I think he thought I was using him as a rabbit so he let me pass. On our team, all four drivers are about the same speed. There's no superstar." O'Connell said traffic would be a factor, comparing the exotic sports cars with the CART machines. "In CART, there are only a couple of passing zones, like in Turn 5 and Turn 11, where you can out-brake someone," he said. "With our cars, we are slower, and every inch of asphalt is a passing zone. You have to keep your eyes open all the time." Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger of Monaco held the top spot in the GTS class with a lap of 96.567 miles an hour Friday in a Dodge Viper, the fifth straight Viper pole. Dirk Muller of Germany, teamed with Cort Wagner of Los Angeles, held the top spot in the GT division with a lap at 91.343, taking their fourth pole in a row. "This morning we worked on the car," Beretta said. "In qualifying, we decided to wait and see what the other competitors would do because you have to start the race with the same tires. There was no point to push." Muller also "stood" on his Friday lap. "I was on a faster lap today but traffic in (turn) six caused me to change my apex and I lost some time," he said. "After (that), we used the rest of the session for race setup." The race is the seventh of eight events in the inaugural American Le Mans Series season, which finishes Nov. 7 at Las Vegas. PIT NOTES: Current series point leader Elliott Forbes-Robinson will team with James Weaver and start 11th. "We've been having a problem with grip at this track," said EFR. "We've changed to a race setup so we can try to go the distance on the same tires." …Driver/owner Franz Konrad Driver/owner Franz Konrad had a hot moment when a turbo fire erupted in his Porsche 911 during qualifying. "The engine let go," he said. Konrad was uninjured, but the car sustained severe fire damage Cindi Lux, the Women's Global GT Series point leader, said her strategy for today's race was as follows: "We might take it back a tick at the start, but if I see an opening, I'm going for it and just check out." ALMS driver Peter Cunningham was the owner of the cars that finished 1-2-3 in Saturday's Speedvision World Challenge event^EFor Michelin, Bernard's pole was the sixth of the season for the tire manufacturer. For the fourth straight race, Michelin teams turned the fastest qualifying lap in all three classes.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Ricardo Zonta , David Brabham , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Franz Konrad , J.J. Lehto , James Weaver , Karl Wendlinger , Bill Auberlen , Elliott Forbes-Robinson , Andrea Montermini , Peter Cunningham , Olivier Beretta , Cindi Lux

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