RETURNING IN STYLE: DE FERRAN ON MID-OHIO POLE Gil de Ferran won his third straight pole position at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday...seven years since his last. The storybook debut season for De Ferran Motorsports continued with de...
RETURNING IN STYLE: DE FERRAN ON MID-OHIO POLE
Gil de Ferran won his third straight pole position at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday...seven years since his last. The storybook debut season for De Ferran Motorsports continued with de Ferran's first pole in the American Le Mans Series, a record-breaking 1:07.969 (119.596 mph) for the Acura Sports Car Challenge.
De Ferran's Acura ARX-01b led a second straight overall sweep of the front row for Acura in a home race before thousands of Honda and Acura employees and guests. The two-time CART and former Indianapolis 500 winner qualified 0.224 seconds ahead of Patrón Highcroft Racing's David Brabham, who sat on the pole a week ago at Lime Rock and won the race overall with Scott Sharp.
"I have to say this is a very emotional day," a beaming de Ferran said. "We are a very young operation, and to get our first career pole in our third race of existence is unbelievable. I am absolutely over the moon. I want to say a big thank you to all the guys on the team and Honda Performance Development. The rhythm that they have been showing is unbelievable."
It has translated into performance for the LMP2 entry. De Ferran just missed qualifying on the overall pole in the team's debut at Miller Motorsports Park in May as he and Pagenaud drove from the back of the grid to a third-place overall finish. Pagenaud qualified the car second overall at Lime Rock a week ago but the team suffered through gearbox problems that resulted in a 14th place finish.
That issue seemed to have been solved Friday afternoon, aside from a harmless spin in the last corner late in the session. Unlike Salt Lake City, the de Ferran Acura will maintain its starting position.
"Today was all adrenaline," de Ferran said. "I knew we were close. The car kept getting better as I kept pushing. I love qualifying; there is no consideration. It's pure speed. You don't have to look after the brakes or the tires or the fuel. You just push it."
De Ferran has a lengthy history at Mid-Ohio with consecutive pole positions in 2000 and 2001 with Team Penske's CART operation. He finished second both years. Coincidentally, one of his closest challengers to Friday's pole was Penske's Timo Bernhard in a Porsche RS Spyder. Bernhard, who turned a lap of 1:08.238, and Romain Dumas have won the last two years at Mid-Ohio.
"This is one of the great road courses in America," de Ferran said. "It is very challenging - up and down and around. It's tricky from the changes in surfaces. There are still some patches where the grip is different. To get the hang of it is really tricky. Never discount Team Penske; that is something everyone should know. I know they will have tremendous competition tomorrow. By no means it will be a foregone conclusion. It will be a battle."
Marco Werner took his second LMP1 pole in three events with a 1:08.357 (118.917 mph), another class record, in the Audi R10 TDI that he will drive with Lucas Luhr. Werner won in class last season with Emanuele Pirro and surprised himself with his qualifying time.
"This is something I didn't think we could do," he admitted. "I knew a 1:08.5 was really difficult for this weekend, and to do an 8.3 was fantastic. You needed a long time for the tires to come up to grip, and the Michelins really came in. It was a lot more sticky than the practice before and a little bit difficult with our weight. If you change directions with an understeer and then get some good grip you end up with oversteer. So it was a challenge."
He and Luhr lead the P1 championship and last won an overall race at Long Beach in April. They have won four straight class rounds and own a solid lead in the championship. Werner says they also have an advantage over the rest of the field when it comes to race pace.
"We are always close to our qualifying times, closer than the other cars," he said "If we stay out of trouble and out of traffic, it should be a really good race for us"
Next in P1 and seventh overall was Audi teammate Dindo Capello at 1:08.960 (117.877 mph) in the R10 TDI that he will drive with Pirro. Intersport Racing's Lola B06/10-AER of Clint Field qualified third in class at 1:11.053 (114.405 mph). He will drive with his father Jon and Richard Berry.
The top six cars qualified within 0.538 seconds of each other.
Corvette Racing's Johnny O'Connell continued a dominating weekend in the Corvette C6.R that he will pilot with Jan Magnussen and exacted a bit of revenge in the process. O'Connell captured the GT1 pole with a lap of 1:17.900 (104.349 mph) for a gap of 0.429 seconds back to Olivier Beretta in the sister Corvette.
O'Connell had qualified on top in last year's race before failing a post-qualifying stall test when the engine would not shut off with the restrictor covered. There were no such problems this time around.
"It was a good run for us," he said. "It was challenging because we were running on a tire that we hadn't been on all weekend due to the heat on the track (in excess of 124 degrees). We didn't go as quick as we did in practice but it was still good enough to redeem ourselves."
It was O'Connell's first pole position since Petit Le Mans in 2006. He and Magnussen have been the quickest GT1 pairing in each session this weekend, And having won four of the first five races this year made it a bit easier to talk about what happened in qualifying here last year.
"In 1999 Jan and I were teammates in prototypes and in my mind we were the strongest pairing," O'Connell said. "But we had some of the same luck as we had last year. Mid-Ohio is a great example from last year. It's little things like that and mistakes we aren't making. We're getting the breaks and taking advantage."
Jaime Melo took his first GT2 pole position of the season, and Risi Competizione continued its upward trend. Melo's late lap of 1:20.025 in his Ferrari F430 GT nipped Farnbacher Loles Racing's Dirk Werner and his Porsche 911 GT3 RSR by 0.174 seconds.
Melo and Mika Salo are the defending GT2 Series champions but struggled in the first half of the season. A class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Gianmaria Bruni and a third-place finish last week at Lime Rock has the team pointed in the right direction again.
"After Le Mans, I think we turned the page and have gained more confidence," Melo said. "Everything in the program is still the same. We have been competitive since the first race. We need to keep looking forward and not in the past. Through the end of the season I think we can keep improving."
Melo spun the car at Turn 13 late in the session but had enough time to go back out and post his pole time. It has been trying this weekend to say the least with hot temperatures combined with an air conditioning system in the car that periodically malfunctioned.
"We will race with the cool suit as well just to be safe," Melo said. "We didn't in Lime Rock and it was very hard."
The top four cars qualified within 0.299 seconds with Flying Lizard Motorsports' Wolf Henzler placing third at 1:20.226. Henzler will team with championship co-leader Jorg Bergmeister in one of three Lizard Porsches. The team has won three times at Mid-Ohio in the last four years.
The Acura Sports Car Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 19 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. NBC Sports will televise the race from noon to 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 20. XM Satellite Radio will air the race from 5 to 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 20. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage on americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.