Mid-Ohio: Series qualifying report

BERNHARD PUTS PENSKE PORSCHE ON MID-OHIO POLE Penske Motorsports' Timo Bernhard had a feeling that Friday would be a record-breaking day at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He just didn't know by how much. Bernhard earned a bit of redemption with an...

BERNHARD PUTS PENSKE PORSCHE ON MID-OHIO POLE

Penske Motorsports' Timo Bernhard had a feeling that Friday would be a record-breaking day at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He just didn't know by how much. Bernhard earned a bit of redemption with an overall pole position for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge with a landmark lap in his Porsche RS Spyder.

Bernhard set an American Le Mans Series record with a time of 1:08.510 around the 2.25-mile, 13-turn road course as new qualifying marks were set in all four classes. The Porsche factory pilot bested Hayanari Shimoda's mark from 2005 by nearly three full seconds, set in a Zytek LMP1. Friday marked the sixth consecutive event at which a LMP2 entry captured the overall pole position.

Bernhard and Romain Dumas took the first overall victory for Penske in the American Le Mans Series last year at Mid-Ohio despite starting from the back of the grid. Bernhard qualified on pole position but his car was found to be overweight in post-qualifying inspections. There were no such problems this year.

"Last year I was sitting in the tower with the first pole for LMP2 and for the Spyder," Bernhard said. "Last year I started from the back and caught the top four guys very quickly. This year we have a lot of poles but have never won from the pole so we have to change that here."

The sister Penske Porsche of Sascha Maassen and Ryan Briscoe will start from the outside front row after Maassen's best effort of 1:08.755. The duo has taken the overall win in the last two Series events and will start just ahead of the best of the Acura entries, the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Lola- Acura of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz. Fernandez was 0.463 seconds behind Bernhard.

"The competition is very, very high," Bernhard said. "We could never be sure that the Acuras wouldn't surprise us. When you look at the gaps, they are getting closer and closer. During the race you will see a good show because the competition is so high. With eight or nine cars in LMP2, it will be really hard to overtake. So you'll have to mind your strategy to stay in front."

First in LMP1 and fourth overall was Audi's Dindo Capello at 1:09.435 in one of two factory diesel-powered R10 TDIs. The two-time Le Mans-winning prototypes are making their debut at Mid-Ohio. Capello, who won in class last year with Allan McNish in the Audi R8.

"We were struggling quite a lot until the last five minutes of the second practice," Capello said. "We decided since we were trying something new, we went back to a more standard setup and we got back the feeling. We could set a decent lap time but it was hard to keep an average performance. We went back to the standard setup and improved."

Capello was 0.443 seconds ahead of the sister Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner. The reigning Le Mans winners were eighth overall as Audi tries to win its first overall race since St. Petersburg. The lighter prototypes have an advantage over the bigger diesel-powered cars on shorter, tighter courses like Mid-Ohio.

"We knew the P2s would be better for sure," Capello said. "The engineers at home sent us a comparison and as in Salt Lake City they were 100 percent right. The gap should have been a little bit less than 1 second and that's what happened on the race track. I think as always our car can close the gap in the race. We could not get the peak of the performance from the tires in qualifying but we can run so consistent during the race. That is the good thing that will help us."

The No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta will start from the GT1 pole after the No. 3 sister car failed its post- qualifying inspection. Johnny O'Connell had turned in a time of 1:16.588 before the seal on the car's airbox malfunctioned and didn't stall properly during the inspection. That put O'Connell and Jan Magnussen at the rear of the grid.

O'Connell had bested Gavin by 0.067 seconds for the GT1 pole before the time was disallowed. Gavin will start 14th overall and despite the setback, O'Connell's car was handling well enough on the Mid-Ohio surface that a run back to the front is fully possible.

"The people at Mid-Ohio have done a great job of making this a great track," O'Connell said. "I think that's why you've seen track records across the board. There's definitely more grip than in some areas. They have done a great job with the curbing. The track is really in a good state and everyone should be pretty pleased."

Jaime Melo took his first GT2 pole position since Sebring with a lap of 1:19.951 for Risi Competizione and its Ferrari F430 GT. The Brazilian star was 0.417 seconds better than Tomas Enge in another Ferrari for Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing.

Melo also broke Patrick Long's class qualifying record from 2006 by 2.687 seconds.

"We have a good car at this track," Melo said. "It is more grippy and our car worked very well and was very consistent. Our setup was good for these conditions. I think it will be better for tomorrow with more rubber. Our strategy is that the older our tires are the faster we can go. We can have a good pace for the race and can fight for the win."

Melo and Salo won the first four races in class to open a commanding lead in the championship standings. But the duo failed to earn points after a retirement at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah and placed ninth at Lime Rock to fall into second place behind Flying Lizard Motorsports' Johannes van Overbeek and Jorg Bergmeister in the championship. Bergmeister qualified third as the best of the Porsche drivers at 1:20.357.

"We just need to take back the drivers championship and be in front without trouble," Melo said. "That's the only thing we want. We don't think too much about the past."

The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Acura Sports Car Challenge, scheduled for 3:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 21 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be broadcast XM Satellite Radio's Sports Nation Channel at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday. American Le Mans Radio will air live coverage via americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring. CBS Sports will broadcast the race from 2 to 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 22.

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Adrian Fernandez , Johnny O'Connell , Sascha Maassen , Luis Diaz , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Jaime Melo , Timo Bernhard , Hayanari Shimoda , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Ryan Briscoe , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Dindo Capello , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione , Flying Lizard Motorsports