Lehto lands fifth Sebring pole for Audi

Lehto lands fifth Sebring pole for Audi

Champion Racing's JJ Lehto hopes that history will repeat itself in this year's 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1999, Lehto claimed the pole and went on to win the race. This year, Lehto out-dueled former American Le Mans Series champion Allan McNish to...

Champion Racing's JJ Lehto hopes that history will repeat itself in this year's 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1999, Lehto claimed the pole and went on to win the race. This year, Lehto out-dueled former American Le Mans Series champion Allan McNish to hand Audi its fifth consecutive Sebring pole.

#38 Team ADT Champion Racing Audi R8: JJ Lehto, Emanuele Pirro, Marco Werner.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
"It's a good start for us," said Lehto, a two-time Sebring pole winner. "I have been really happy with the set up from the very first day. But it was tough to get a clear lap in the beginning because of the traffic. So we pitted, made some changes, and still had some time left for a quick lap."

McNish had to settle for second, .111 seconds behind Lehto, who lapped the 17-turn course in 1:48.710. "I was on pole from the start until seven minutes to the checkered flag."

"I went quicker on my very first lap but it wasn't quite good enough," continued McNish. "Our car was set up more with the race in mind than out-and-out qualifying, which bodes well for a successful race."

James Weaver qualified third in the Dyson Racing Lola, followed by the Audi of Johnny Herbert and the Lola of Jon Field.

In LMP2, Jeff Bucknum, driving the Team Bucknum Pillbeam Nissan, claimed his first ALMS pole. The three-time ALMS winner recorded a lap of 2:01.034.

"It's always good to get a pole, especially here with all of the history," expressed Bucknum. The team owner will co-drive with Chris McMurray and Bryan Willman.

Marino Franchitti and Clint Field qualified second and third, respectively, in LMP2, which now includes the original LMP675 cars.

Oliver Gavin and Ron Fellows led a Corvette sweep of GTS class qualifying, with Gavin putting the No. 4 entry on the pole, .194 seconds ahead of Fellows. Gavin, who will share the driving duties in the race with Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen, turned a lap of 1:56.858, 2.166 seconds under the old GTS class record.

"Every time I show up here, I seem to be in a good car," said Gavin after this third Sebring pole in four years. "The switch to Michelin tires has really helped us. They seem to be faster and have good longevity."

Indeed, Gavin said the new tires might allow the Corvette team to triple stint its tires during the race.

Jean Phillipe Belloc qualified third in the Carsport America Dodge Viper.

In GT, newcomer Mike Rockenfeller out-qualified fellow Porsche factory drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas to capture his first ALMS pole. Rockenfeller, a former Porsche Carrera Cup standout, pedaled his 2003-spec BAM Porsche around the 3.7-mile circuit in 2:04.169. A hard crash last Friday during testing forced the team to scrap its plans to race its 2004-spec car.

"It's a great feeling," commented Rockenfeller. "The mechanics did a great job rebuilding the (2003) car after our incident on Friday." Rockenfeller will co-drive with Leo Hindery and Peter Baron.

The Alex Job Racing Porsches of Bernhard and Dumas set the second and third fastest times in the class.

The 52nd 12 Hours of Sebring will take the green flag on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Editor's note: ALMS officials announce tech infractions: Three polesitters times disallowed

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