Mid-Ohio: Qualifying report

PENSKE PORSCHE TO START ON MID-OHIO OVERALL POLE Lexington, Ohio - Admittedly, this wasn't how Sascha Maassen wanted to win his first overall pole position in the American Le Mans Series. Nevertheless, that's where his Penske Racing Porsche RS...

PENSKE PORSCHE TO START ON MID-OHIO OVERALL POLE

Lexington, Ohio - Admittedly, this wasn't how Sascha Maassen wanted to win his first overall pole position in the American Le Mans Series. Nevertheless, that's where his Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder will start in the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio.

Maassen will go down in the record books as the second LMP2/P675 driver to win an overall pole in the Series' history. Maassen broke the class track record at Mid-Ohio with a lap of 1:12.815 for his second career LMP2 pole position. He moved to first when Timo Bernhard's time of 1:12.378 in the No. 7 RS Spyder was disallowed because the car was found to be underweight in post-race inspection.

"It's unfortunate that there is only one Porsche in the front," Maassen said. "We are not very happy. The one nice thing is there is one Porsche there, and the second one will be back up front."

Dyson Racing was the only other P2/P675 team to capture an overall pole in an American Le Mans Series event (Infineon 2003). The Dyson crew went on to win that weekend and remains the only P2/P675 class team to win an overall race. The popular belief among many was that the Porsches would challenge for that honor.

The Penske Porsches have dominated the weekend so far with the best time during each of the three sessions prior to qualifying. The cars tested at the freshly surfaced circuit in April, and expectations were high entering race week. The track's technical nature and the smooth asphalt were going to be to the team's benefit, Penske members said.

"It was a fairly good time that we turned in today," Maassen said. "We had some problems heating up the tires, but everybody had the same problem."

The Audi R8 of Audi Sport North America will start second, thanks to Allan McNish's class-leading time of 1:12.975. McNish, who already has won at Sebring and Houston with Rinaldo Capello, wasn't surprised at the pace of the Porsche prototypes. At least one of the Porsches has been faster than the Audi in each of the previous sessions here.

"Our thoughts, as always, have been toward driving fast for the race, not just qualifying," McNish said. "Session to session, we were getting quicker because of the new surface. Getting (second) overall took a lot of work. It was the best we'll get out of the car."

McNish was 0.116 seconds better than the first of Dyson Racing's two AER-powered Lola B06/10s. Butch Leitzinger in the No. 16 Dyson Lola was a second-and-a-half better than Chris Dyson in the No. 20 Lola. But McNish said the Porsches may have the best chance of winning Sunday, moreso than the LMP1s.

"If you look at the lap times, with the traction control and weight of the LMP2 car, they stand a fighting chance of winning overall," McNish said. "They are able to take more out of the tires in the early laps. We'll run our race and run it flat out, but the pace of the Penske-Porsche is going to be faster than us."

Tomas Enge put Aston Martin Racing's No. 007 Aston Martin DBR9 on the GT1 pole with a 1:18.857, barely edging out Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette Racing entry. The Czech gave Aston Martin its second class pole of the season; Pedro Lamy set the fast lap at Sebring in the sister No. 009 car.

Enge has been a Prodrive regular in the American Le Mans Series. He drove a Ferrari 550 in 2002 and 2003, picking up two class wins and three class poles. As was the case then, Enge and his mates were chasing Corvette Racing.

"(The goal) was to go as fast as possible and get a clean lap," Enge said. "We know our main competitors are going to be tough. We are quite lucky. I put everything into that lap. I saw that I was catching some traffic and knew it was going to be difficult to find any more speed. Luckily, it happened. It was a very close battle."

The starting lineup in GT1 will alternate between the Aston Martins and Corvettes. They have split the four on-track sessions so far this weekend, which should mean a tight race among all cars. It could come down to pit stops, tires and teamwork.

"This is the kind of track that suits our car a little more," Enge said. "This is more up-and-down, more flowing, slow corners and fast corners. I think that's why we are faster here. We are very close to each other. It will be very difficult to overtake someone. I think that will be the key to the race more than pit stops. But I think we are on the same level as they are. We just need to prove it."

Patrick Long earned his second career pole in GT2 for Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing, courtesy of a record-breaking lap of 1:22.638. Long's first career pole came last year at Lime Rock, where he also set a qualifying record. Saturday, he beat out Risi Competizione's Ferrari F430GT by 0.048 seconds.

The GT cars were the first ones out for qualifying with a resurfaced Mid-Ohio track that still was a little green. As a result, teams still were playing a bit of a guessing game finding the right setup and combinations right before the qualifying session began.

"With the track being new, we had a setup we needed to re-establish," said Long, who is teaming with Jorg Bergmeister. "It hasn't been easy. The Ferrari somehow found a second between practice and made things difficult for us."

Long, like many other drivers, praised the new asphalt. Naturally, the approach drivers take is much different and rewards creativity, Long said.

"It's pretty unique how late-braking pays off here," he said. "You need to carry a lot of speed into the corners because you can't get back in the throttle as hard. You have to be crafty with the car. It's definitely a driver's track."

The American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio, the third round of the 2006 American Le Mans Series, is set for noon EDT on Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It will be broadcast on CBS Sports at 1 p.m. EDT Sunday, the second of five straight races on the network. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA Live Timing & Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.

-alms-

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , Rinaldo Capello , Allan McNish , Butch Leitzinger , Pedro Lamy , Sascha Maassen , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Chris Dyson
Teams Team Penske , Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing