Pagenaud powers to Utah pole

Pagenaud powers to Utah pole

Simon Pagenaud captured de Ferran Motorsports' third pole of the 2009 American Le Mans Series season for tomorrow's Larry H. Miller Dealerships Grand Prix of Utah. The Frenchman set an overall track record after waiting halfway through the...

Simon Pagenaud captured de Ferran Motorsports' third pole of the 2009 American Le Mans Series season for tomorrow's Larry H. Miller Dealerships Grand Prix of Utah. The Frenchman set an overall track record after waiting halfway through the prototype session to turn a lap.

LMP1 and overall pole winner Simon Pagenaud celebrates.
Photo by Larry Kuivila.

Pagenaud easily displaced his fellow pilot of the Acura ARX-02a, David Brabham, by nearly eight-tenths of a second, at a time of 1:30.645 around the 3.048 outer course at Miller Motorsports Park. Brabham's last-ditch efforts were not enough to regain the point.

"The philosophy we use to set-up the car at de Ferran Motorsports really suits this track well," Pagenaud said. "The Acura is really behaving well because the aero was reworked. I'm really please the engineers pushed me because it really paid off."

For Pagenaud, it is his second pole in as many weeks, while in a different continent, series and different car. Last week he made his Le Mans Series debut for Peugeot in the closed-top, turbo diesel 908 with quick time at Spa-Francorchamps (and was part of the winning team); today he was wheeling Acura's normally-aspirated, gasoline-powered open-top machine.

While he is of course focused on securing the driver's championship with team owner and co-driver Gil de Ferran and ALMS, Pagenaud will also be making his debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe next month with Peugeot in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Pagenaud reflected on what has, to this point, been a breakout season in his career.

"The last month has been crazy, flying back between Europe and driving the Peugeot, and to show up there and win the race in the LMS was really special," Pagenaud said. "But the race win at Long beach was really great too for us, and now the pole position one year from our debut."

Brabham set the early pace at 1:31.442, 1.6 seconds clear of the field, before Pagenaud got up to speed. On his third lap, his second hot lap, Pagenaud laid down the eventual pole time. He ran within three one- hundredths of a second on successive laps, at 1:30.669 and 1:30.678.

Pagenaud will co-drive as usual with de Ferran at the track where the team made its debut last season; Brabham with Scott Sharp who has returned to his normal office after spending most of his last two weeks at Indianapolis practicing and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

#15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b Acura: Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

Fernandez Racing in the Acura ARX-01b again scored pole in P2, for the fourth time in as many races. Luis Diaz was at the wheel this time, his second pole position, while team owner and co-driver Adrian Fernandez did so the other two occasions.

The Acura was slower than at least of the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazdas in both practice sessions so Diaz was somewhat surprised at the pole, with a time of 1:32.749, eight-tenths clear of Butch Leitzinger in the first Dyson entry.

"In the first 2 practices they led in the practices, but the team made good changes for qualifying and we did a great job with those and did a good lap," Diaz said. "We have the right tire compound with the Michelins for tomorrow. So we are really looking good for the race."

The Dyson pairing of Leitzinger and Chris Dyson were next up, completing both the top five overall and the P2 class, as they search for their first class win of the season.

Three more P1 cars start next. In sixth was the Corsa Motorsports Ginetta Zytek 09SH, the first hybrid P1 car to turn a wheel in ALMS competition. Johnny Mowlem drove the part-gasoline, part-electric car to a quick lap of 1:34.957, finding several seconds improvement from practice.

In GT2, Jorg Bergmeister needed only one timed lap to score pole position. He went out aboard his Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, set a class track record at 1:47.120, and came back in and called it a day.

#45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
Photo by Larry Kuivila.

"The strategy was to save the tires," Bergmeister said. "We tested for a couple of days right after Long Beach, so we only had to make a few changes for qualifying. The first lap was really good and we didn't think we could improve. It was close at the end, I have to say."

Jaime Melo and Wolf Henzler each came within a couple-tenths of Bergmeister but no quicker, and that to have been dissatisfying after many laps on track. Melo's lone Ferrari F430 GT was sandwiched in-between the Porsches driven by Bergmeister and Henzler.

Making its debut within an ALMS race is the new ALMS Challenge division, whereby Porsche GT3 Cup cars from the Patron GT3 Challenge can compete in ALMS events. Carl Skerlong, of former fame in the Atlantic Championship, scored class pole by merely six one-thousandths of a second over Martin Snow.

The concern is the pace, or lack thereof, of the GT3 cars in the race. Skerlong's quick time of 1:56.166 was more than 25 seconds slower than Pagenaud. John Baker, the slowest of the five GT3 Porsches, failed to turn a lap under 2 minutes.

"With a track like this that's so big and open, you get quite a warning that cars are coming," Skerlong said. "But the closing speeds are phenomenal. The prototypes don't look like race cars going by. They're just blurs going by."

At that rate, the cars have the potential to obstruct the three other classes on track very early on and throughout the 2 hour, 45 minute race, the first standard timed event of the season following on the 12 Hours of Sebring and sprints at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

Nonetheless, the additions of both the hybrid prototype and the GT3 cars are two more variables in the series' last race before a month-long summer break until Lime Rock in early July, scheduled to start at 4:15 p.m. ET.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Adrian Fernandez , Luis Diaz , Jörg Bergmeister , Jaime Melo , Johnny Mowlem , Martin Snow , Wolf Henzler , Simon Pagenaud , Carl Skerlong , Chris Dyson , John Baker
Teams Dyson Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports