Sebring: Qualifying report

AUDI R10 TDIS STEAL SHOW IN HISTORIC QUALIFYING SESSION AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING N/A - Sebring, Fla. -Heading into this week, most people believed the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was going to make history. Apparently, that includes...

AUDI R10 TDIS STEAL SHOW IN HISTORIC QUALIFYING SESSION AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING

N/A - Sebring, Fla. -Heading into this week, most people believed the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was going to make history. Apparently, that includes qualifying. In the first race of the 2006 American Le Mans Series, all four class qualifying records fell in the prelude to America's greatest sports car race.

For its worldwide debut, Audi Sport North America's diesel-powered Audi R10 TDIs will start 1-2 at Sebring International Raceway. Allan McNish in the No. 2 entry will start on the pole position after demolishing the track record with a lap of 1:45.828. McNish's mark shattered Frank Biela's qualifying lap in 2002 with the Audi R8 by more than two seconds.

McNish, who will drive with Rinaldo Capello and seven-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, was 1.845 seconds better than Marco Werner in the No. 1 Audi R10 TDI. Werner will drive with defending Series champions Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela.

Should one of the cars win, Audi would become the first manufacturer to win in the American Le Mans Series with a diesel-powered car. That also is the goal for Le Mans.

"Today, Audi has showed America the potential of diesel power. This is a historic day for Audi and sports car racing," McNish boasted. "The engineers at Audi have really developed this engine and car over the last few months and they can be proud of what they achieved. The car is perfectly balanced as a driver could ever want. That had to be the best lap in an Audi in my entire career."

Dyson Racing's two new Lola B06/10-AERs will start third and fourth in class (fifth and sixth overall) for their first race. Guy Smith, in the No. 20 Lola he will share with Chris Dyson, was the quickest Dyson driver with a lap of 1:49.531. Although the Lolas were well off the pace of the Audis, McNish said that means little in a 12-hour race at a track like Sebring.

"We still have to look at our competition," McNish said. "I'm sure they were not as flat out as they could have been and it's a long drive on Saturday. There are three drivers that have to drive the car. There is always a bit of compromise. We are step-by-step understanding what we've really got."

Following a successful debut of its own in October, Penske Racing picked up where it left off with an LMP2 pole Thursday. The No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder qualified third overall with Lucas Luhr at the wheel. The time of 1:47.8 broke James Weaver's previous mark by nearly 1.5 seconds.

Luhr and Sascha Maassen drove the Porsche RS Spyder to a class victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last season. At Sebring, they will team with Emmanuel Collard.

"The car performed very well. I think we all expected it to," Luhr said. "The RS Spyder still has major potential as a reliable race car. I just hope we did everything we could have (leading up to this week) to be successful to win."

Timo Bernhard qualified the No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder second in class and fourth overall. Bernhard, who posted a lap of 1:48.017, will drive with Romain Dumas and Patrick Long.

Luhr is trying to become the second driver in the 54-year history of Sebring to win six class championships, joining Johnny O'Connell. Last year, Luhr won in GT2 with Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing.

"I have always liked Sebring," Luhr said. "We had a long run at Laguna Seca, and now this race is 3 times as long. We don't have to prepare the car differently, just make sure it will last 12 hours."

GT1 saw the first pole for Pedro Lamy and Aston Martin Racing as the No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 posted a 1:55.286 lap, which was 0.744 seconds ahead of the No. 007 sister car of Tomas Enge. Aston Martin Racing, which won at Sebring last year in its debut, will start 1-2 ahead of Corvette Racing's two Corvette C6.Rs.

The two teams battled at Sebring, Le Mans, Petit Le Mans and the Monterey Sports Car Championships last year in one of the sports' most talked about rivalries. Suffice to say, that rivalry is back on.

"Of course it's nice to be on the pole," Lamy said. "I don't know what our competitors did in qualifying because they were faster yesterday. Maybe they had traffic problems. We are just trying to compete. The Corvettes are winning everything over here. We want to fight against them."

Of the two Corvettes, the No. 4 of Oliver Gavin was the fastest Thursday at 1:56.770. Gavin is teaming with Olivier Beretta, with whom he won the class championship last season, and Jan Magnussen. The trio also have won the last two GT1 titles at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The two Aston Martins are running their first race in the American Le Mans Series on Pirelli rubber, so the pole time was extra special. The cars tested at the track last weekend to get more tire data.

"It's a lot of work to do," Lamy said. "We have to adapt the cars to the tires to make sure we have the best tires for the car. It's an important step."

Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz debuted in style with a GT2 pole, courtesy of David Brabham in the No. 50 Panoz Esperante GTLM. Brabham turned a lap of 2:03.563, less than a tenth of a second better than the Risi Competizione No. 62 Ferrari F430GT of Ralf Kelleners.

The No. 51 sister Panoz Esperante of Gunnar Jeannette, Tom Milner and Bruno Junqueira will start third. The first of the Porsches is the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Mike Rockenfeller, Klaus Graf and Graham Rahal.

"It's a new challenge and new season, so it's good to get off to a good start with a good team," said Brabham, who's teaming with Scott Maxwell and two-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais. "We've worked awhile on qualifying setup. The team obviously has done a good job. Now we're working on a race setup."

Sebring is Brabham's first race in the Panoz Esperante. He drove a Panoz prototype for the Panoz Motor Sports factory team from 1999-2002.

"Each company is different in the way they operate," Brabham said. "Multimatic does their own thing in their way, which is good. There are differences, but there is in every team. At the end of day, you get in the car and do the best you can."

-alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Guy Smith , Frank Biela , James Weaver , Ralf Kelleners , Klaus Graf , Bruno Junqueira , Johnny O'Connell , Emmanuel Collard , Pedro Lamy , Graham Rahal , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Scott Maxwell , Oliver Gavin , Sébastien Bourdais , Gunnar Jeannette , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Mike Rockenfeller , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Team Penske , Aston Martin Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing , Multimatic Motorsports , Alex Job Racing