Road America: Series qualifying report

AUDI BACK ON FRONT ROW AT ROAD AMERICA Allan McNish and Audi returned to the head of the American Le Mans Series grid Friday with a record run to pole position for Saturday's Generac 500 at Road America. The record-setting Scot turned in a lap...

AUDI BACK ON FRONT ROW AT ROAD AMERICA

Allan McNish and Audi returned to the head of the American Le Mans Series grid Friday with a record run to pole position for Saturday's Generac 500 at Road America. The record-setting Scot turned in a lap of 1:47.665 in Audi's diesel-powered R10 TDI as the German marque won its first overall pole in the Series since the season-opening race at Sebring in March.

McNish broke the mark he set last year at Road America by 1.5 seconds and was 0.371 seconds better than teammate Marco Werner in the sister factory prototype. McNish and Dindo Capello will team in the pole-sitting entry with defending race winner Emanuele Pirro joining Werner.

"I still know how to talk but I'm not sure if I remember how to talk about being on the overall pole," McNish joked as he climbed into the interview area. It felt like almost a comment made out of relief as Audi displayed the dominance that has made it the premier manufacturer in the Series since 2000.

The big Audi diesel engine has struggled on the tighter, shorter courses that have filled the first half of the Series schedule. But the long straights and fast corners of the 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America circuit are just what the Audi needed.

Audi finished 1-2 at Road America in 2006 with Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela beating McNish and Capello.

"The circuit is obviously bigger and faster than normal compared to what we have had previously," he said. "We knew we would be more competitive, and there have been some developments with our car. When we talk about changing the car, we're not talking about a lot. But little details do add up. We think about the whole race weekend as a unit and we've explored it deeper than we ever have before."

Romain Dumas qualified third overall and first in P2 for Penske Motorsports and one of its two Porsche RS Spyders. Dumas and Timo Bernhard have won three overall events this year including the last race at Mid-Ohio. Porsches have claimed five straight overall wins dating back to Long Beach in April.

"From a team perspective, it is very important to have this pole position," McNish said. "Everyone is standing a bit taller than they were before and they are more confident and upbeat. There is always an advantage from the overall pole. If you're in the pack, you have more of a chance of being in an incident. So we're in the position of being in control. It may not factor in the outcome but it's nice to throw down the gauntlet. Without a doubt pole position is the best seat in the house."

While Dumas said challenging the Audis for a race win would be nice, there is the P2 victory to think about. The battle is tight with the top four cars separated by less than two seconds. Dumas' lap of 1:48.833 broke Lucas Luhr's qualifying record from last year by 2.366 seconds.

But the other four fastest cars in class also were under the old mark with Ryan Briscoe second at 1:49.117 in the Penske Porsche he will share with Sascha Maassen. David Brabham was next in Highcroft Racing's Acura ARX at 1:49.767.

"We will do like we have all season: compete for the class win and we will see about the overall race," Dumas said. "We have to expect competition from the Acuras because they are very close. You can see in GT2 that there has been great competition in GT2 with Ferrari, Porsche and Panoz. It is the same now in P2."

As a result, Dumas and everyone else in the Porsche camp never expected to be as close as he got Friday. But the racer in Dumas can't help but look to see the gap to the Audis.

"We are quicker in the fast corners, and here you have a lot of them. That's where we pick up time," Dumas said. "We all the time compare all the cars together, including Audi. We want to see where we are losing time and in what corners. We are always looking to gain a little bit of time."

Jan Magnussen took his fourth career pole and second of the season for Corvette Racing in GT1 as he and Johnny O'Connell look for their first class victory since Houston. The Dane qualified the No. 3 Corvette C6.R 0.086 seconds ahead of Olivier Beretta in the sister car.

Beretta and Oliver Gavin enter Road America leading the class championship and having won six of seven races this season and the last three in a row. But O'Connell won at Road America last year with Ron Fellows, and Magnussen won here for Prodrive and its Ferrari 550 in 2003 with David Brabham.

"Our qualifying run went very well," Magnussen said. "This is the first time I've been here since 2003 and I've been looking forward to driving the Corvette around here. Johnny is very strong here and should be very good for the race. The track has gotten better and better. The main thing about our car is that this is the most professional team out there. We always get the best out of them no matter the event."

Third in class was Didier Theys in the Doran Racing Maserati MC12, one second behind Magnussen in the car's first run in the American Le Mans Series. It has provided yet another level of competition for the two factory Corvettes.

"The more competition the better," Magnussen said. "The Maserati is very fast. I'm not sure of its configuration but am very happy to see it here. Hopefully it will be back, and hopefully the Astons will be back for a couple of races.

"When I saw that its lap times were getting better, we were all waiting to see how low it would go. It's a very good car."

In GT2, Jaime Melo captured his third class pole of the season and second straight in the lead Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT he will share with Mika Salo. Melo qualified with a class record of 2:07.191 for a 0.418- second advantage over Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing's Dirk Muller, also in a Ferrari.

All four drivers in the two front-row Ferraris are at Road America for the first time.

"To be honest it was not very hard. We have a good car," Melo said. "During the last practice session I had a very good lap time. I think the car is harder to drive in the race than in qualifying. We just have work hard for it. We need to be a little conservative in the beginning and go for it later."

Risi's other Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and Eric Helary will start third in class, just 0.3 seconds ahead of the class championship-leading Flying Lizard Motorsports duo of Jorg Bergmeister and Johannes van Overbeek. The two have driven their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to two straight victories and hold an 8-point lead over Melo and Salo in the championship standings.

The four-hour race rewards more points than the standard two-hour, 45- minute sprints so strategy - and finishing - will be keys, Melo said.

"Anything can happen," he said. "For sure we will try to keep the same driver in for two hours to gain some time. But we don't know yet for certain and haven't decided. We have two or three ideas how to decide and it depends on the speed of the drivers."

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Gianmaria Bruni , David Brabham , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Didier Theys , Mika Salo , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Sascha Maassen , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Jaime Melo , Timo Bernhard , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Ryan Briscoe , Eric Helary , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Dindo Capello , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione , Doran Racing