Long Beach: Series qualifying report

BERNHARD SCORES PENSKE POLE AT LONG BEACH Back at the track where he and Romain Dumas started their run to the American Le Mans Series LMP2 championship a year ago, Timo Bernhard took pole position for Porsche and Penske Racing at the Tequila ...

BERNHARD SCORES PENSKE POLE AT LONG BEACH

Back at the track where he and Romain Dumas started their run to the American Le Mans Series LMP2 championship a year ago, Timo Bernhard took pole position for Porsche and Penske Racing at the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on Friday. The German Porsche factory pilot posted a lap of 1:11.330 (99.324 mph) in a competitive and record-breaking day in southern California.

Bernhard's lap around 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit was good enough for a 0.094-second gap over Luis Diaz in Lowe's Fernandez Racing's Acura ARX-01b. Bernhard, who again will team with Dumas, also broke Dario Franchitti's track record of 1:11.838 set last season in Andretti Green Racing's Acura.

The first five cars on the grid are LMP2 cars, which are feasting on the tight and twisty 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit. And all four class pole winners set qualifying records.

"We are very happy to capture the pole position. Everything was very tight," Bernhard said. "We never had a good clean lap. It was hard in the sessions before due to the traffic and the track changed a lot."

Last year's Long Beach race saw Bernhard and Dumas win the first of six overall Series races. The duo also scored eight LMP2 victories on their way to the class championship. They already are 2-for-2 this year with an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring and a class triumph at St. Petersburg.

But the Acura contingent looks very strong with its three cars in the top-five. David Brabham qualified third overall in the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura at 1:11.448 (99.160 mph). He will drive with Scott Sharp. After the second Porsche of Patrick Long and Sascha Maassen came Andretti Green Racing's Acura of Christian Fittipaldi and Bryan Herta.

The top seven cars were within 0.566 seconds with the first six under last year's qualifying mark. It sets the stage for a closely contested race.

"With only 100 minutes in the race, one bad move you lose lots of positions," Bernhard said. "I was not surprised everything was so close. I had no expectations of who would be where."

Lucas Luhr scored the pole position in LMP1 but will start sixth overall in the No. 2 Audi R10 TDI he will share with Marco Werner. Luhr's time of 1:11.75 (98.722 mph) also was under last year's class qualifying record, a 1:12.713 set by Audi's Dindo Capello.

Luhr and Werner won overall at the last Series street round at St. Petersburg. The Long Beach circuit, though, is a much tougher task for the R10 TDI with its big V12 diesel engine and heavier weight than the P2 cars.

"We have the straightline speed and hopefully with the start we will catch one or two places," Luhr said. "This track favors the lighter cars. It's a good fight and good for the spectators. The fans want to see close and fine racing, and that's what we hope for tomorrow. The straights and the braking zones are where we can outbrake or overtake an LMP2 car. When the car is straight the power is great. Our car was not built for tight corners."

Emanuele Pirro was 0.131 seconds behind Luhr in the other Audi R10 TDI. He will drive with Frank Biela. Third in P1 was Jon Field in Intersport Racing's Lola B06/10-AER at 1:14.580 (94.996 mph).

Luhr and Werner prove a formidable duo on street circuits. They have combined for 10 victories in Series street events with Luhr scoring seven class wins in eight starts.

"Generally I like the street circuits a lot," Luhr said. "Long Beach itself is a nice race track but doesn't suit our cars that well due to the last two corners which are so tight. We have a good car for the race. I really look forward to tomorrow."

Jan Magnussen captured his first GT1 pole of the season in Corvette Racing's No. 3 Corvette C6.R, a lap of 1:17.059 (91.940 mph) that was 1.086 seconds under last year's qualifying time from Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 sister car. Magnussen will team with Johnny O'Connell as the pairing enters the weekend tied for the class championship lead with Gavin and Olivier Beretta.

"The car was excellent, no problems," Magnussen said. "We put the car in the pit lane so late that it was hard to get a clear lap. But the car was great. It was a lot faster than last year. The new fuel and the Michelin tires seem to be the difference."

Magnussen and O'Connell won the season's first race at Sebring and finished second two weeks ago at St. Petersburg.

Gavin qualified the No. 4 car second at 1:17.465 (91.458 mph). Saturday's race will be the second race that both the factory Corvettes will compete with cellulosic E85.

In GT2, Patrick Pilet scored a pole position in his first qualifying effort in the American Le Mans Series, putting Flying Lizard Motorsports' No. 46 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR on the point in class. The French Porsche factory driver posted a time of 1:19.705 (88.888 mph) and broke Mika Salo's record from last year by 1.211 seconds.

Flying Lizard qualified first and second on the GT2 grid with Jorg Bergmeister 0.406 seconds behind his teammate in the No. 45 Porsche. The team scored a 1-2 finish in class at Sebring to open the season.

"I'm really happy for the team and for Porsche," said Pilet, who will team with Johannes van Overbeek. "We improved the car each lap. We are hoping for a really good start for the race tomorrow. We tried to work hard together with the 45 car. The most important thing is to be in front with the car. Johannes helped me a lot with the track and everything. We work hard together and try to improve the cars."

A pair of Ferrari F430 GTs were next with Risi Competizione's Mika Salo qualifying third at 1:20.306 (88.108 mph). He will attempt to score a Long Beach repeat with Jaime Melo. The qualifying results set up another classic battle between Porsche and Ferrari with the two marques splitting the first two races. What's more, Tafel Racing's Dirk Mueller and teammate Dominik Farnbacher, also Ferrari drivers, lead the GT2 driver championship standings. Flying Lizard leads the team title race.

"The track is very good and I love it," Pilet said. "So I talked my teammate and he let me qualify the car. I brake really late in every corner. The car slides sometimes but just brushes the wall sometimes."

-credit: alms

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Frank Biela , Scott Sharp , Mika Salo , Christian Fittipaldi , Johnny O'Connell , Jon Field , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Luis Diaz , Oliver Gavin , Jaime Melo , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Dominik Farnbacher , Patrick Pilet , Dindo Capello , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Team Penske , Risi Competizione