Miami: Qualifying report

Lehto wins pole for Grand Prix Americas in Miami MIAMI - JJ Lehto gave ADT Champion Racing an important home track pole in the American Le Mans Series by leading qualifying Friday for Saturday's Grand Prix Americas presented by Sportsbook.com on...

Lehto wins pole for Grand Prix Americas in Miami

MIAMI - JJ Lehto gave ADT Champion Racing an important home track pole in the American Le Mans Series by leading qualifying Friday for Saturday's Grand Prix Americas presented by Sportsbook.com on the Miami Downtown Street Circuit.

Lehto drove an Audi R8 Prototype to a lap of 47.848 seconds on the 1.15-mile temporary street circuit, posting his fast lap at the very end of the qualifying session. He and co-driver Johnny Herbert will be seeking their third overall win of the 2003 season in Saturday's two-hour, 45-minute event.

The Champion team is based in nearby Pompano Beach, Fla., where team owner Dave Maraj owns an Audi-Porsche dealership. "It's very good for Champion for us to be on the pole here," said Lehto. "Johnny and I just did a few changes here and there, and surprisingly the car was ready to go when we arrived."

Drivers battled a severe bump in the race track in the area between turns 14 and 15, with some cars getting all four wheels off the ground as they passed over it. Track officials planned to grind and smooth that section of the track prior to Saturday's activities.

"You bump and land," said Lehto. "I'm glad that the race officials will be fixing it tonight. There is not a manufacturer that can make springs hard enough for that turn. Behind the GT Porches, I could really see them hop. One in front of me had clearly four wheels off the ground. You need a WRC (rally) car for that turn."

Lehto expected that the race would be a matter of staying out of trouble on the tricky, narrow track that is surrounded by concrete walls. "Its very hard to get around the GTS and GT cars here," he said. "You really need to keep calm, and keep between the walls. Those have big sharp teeth, you know."

The Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 of Marco Werner and Frank Biela will start second after Werner turned a lap of 47.887. The two are in a position to clinch the LMP 900 class driving title in Saturday's race in several finishing scenarios.

Leading the LMP 675 class and qualifying third overall was the Dyson Racing Lola EX257-MG of Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver with a lap of 49.517, just ahead of the 49.768 turned by Jon Field in the Intersport Lola-MG he will share with Duncan Dayton. However, Field's day ended on a sour note when he crashed in turn nine at the end of the session, heavily damaging the car.

Third fastest in the P675 class and fifth overall was the second Dyson Lola-MG of Chris Dyson and Andy Wallace, while third in the LMP 900 class and sixth overall was the American Spirit Racing R&S MkIIIC-Lincoln of Tomy Drissi and Michael Lewis.

"The track is definitely better than it was last year," said Leitzinger. "It will be really tight with the traffic and very busy for us in the race. It's going to be tough for us to beat the Audis on this track. Our car does better with high-speed turns. Audi is a step ahead of us here."

David Brabham drove the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello to the pole for the GTS class with a lap of 50.922 seconds. The #80 Ferrari has won the GTS class in the past two ALMS events, but Brabham has a new co-driver for this event in England's Darren Turner. Jan Magnussen, Brabham's normal co-driver, had to miss the event due to a previous commitment.

"I've raced with Jan for a long time, but the team chose Darren for this race since Jan couldn't be here and he's doing a great job," said Brabham. "He drove for the team at Sebring and Le Mans, they know him very well and he probably knows more about this car than I do. I have heard a lot of good things about him and look forward to having him as my teammate in the race."

The factory Chevrolet Corvettes qualified second and third in GTS, with the #4 of Oliver Gavin and Kelly Collins second, and the #3 of Johnny O'Connell, Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim third.

The pole was Brabham's first since he won the overall pole for the 2001 Portland event while driving for the former Panoz factory team.

Lucas Luhr led the way in the GT class with a lap of 53.041 in the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS he will share with Sascha Maassen. The other Job car of Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister registered the second-fastest time before having to retire from qualifying due to a broken drive shaft. The White Lightning-Petersen Motorsports Porsche of Johnny Mowlen and Craig Stanton qualified third.

"It was a bumpy ride over that big bump," said Luhr. "I felt like I was in a car and then an airplane for a bit over the bump. It's hard hitting when I came down after it. It's really not so nice driving over it. My teammate Sascha and I were talking about the new configuration of the track and we thought it was good to have the parking lot section from last year that was taken out and the track would be very nice except for the bump. For tomorrow I think there will be a lot of overtaking of each other and it's going to be difficult getting through traffic. I will feel a little bit lucky getting through without any problems."

The race starts at 4 p.m. (EDT) and will be televised live by the SPEED Channel. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Johnny Herbert , Duncan Dayton , David Brabham , Jan Magnussen , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Darren Turner , Ron Fellows , Andy Pilgrim , Jon Field , Sascha Maassen , Kelly Collins , Lucas Luhr , Tomy Drissi , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Timo Bernhard , Michael Lewis , Marco Werner , Craig Stanton , Dave Maraj , Chris Dyson , JJ Lehto