BERNHARD, PORSCHE STORM TO THRILLING UTAH POLE Timo Bernhard stole the thunder from Gil de Ferran and de Ferran Motorsports at Miller Motorsports Park with a stunning pole position run for Porsche and Penske Racing in qualifying for the Larry H.
BERNHARD, PORSCHE STORM TO THRILLING UTAH POLE
Timo Bernhard stole the thunder from Gil de Ferran and de Ferran Motorsports at Miller Motorsports Park with a stunning pole position run for Porsche and Penske Racing in qualifying for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels. Bernhard turned a lap of 1:31.050 (120.514 mph) in the Porsche RS Spyder he will share with Romain Dumas.
Bernhard edged out de Ferran, making his return to racing and debut in the American Le Mans Series, by 0.139 seconds. De Ferran, who last raced in 2003, nevertheless will start on the front row after a lap of 1:31.189 (120.330 mph) in the Acura ARX-01b he will drive with Simon Pagenaud.
"It was very thrilling," said Bernhard, who is on pole for the 12th time in his Series career. "I didn't plan it. I wanted to go out earlier but it worked out. I know Gil de Ferran is a great and successful race car driver. I didn't know how much time they really had for testing and it's really impressive they have come out here and be fast right out for the first time."
Bernhard's pole lap came on his final pass. He had pitted with about five minutes left for fuel and was given the option of calling it a day or taking on more fuel. He obviously made the right choice as he improved his time on each of his final three circuits.
"There were only four minutes left and if the tires were not so good on the out lap, I would just come back in," Bernhard said. "But the first lap was very good and I knew the tires were very good. So during the next lap I picked my points that I knew I could improve on. I put everything together, had a great lap and thought that was the best I could do. Then I knew I had one more so I tried to push even more knowing I was already good. Then as I came across and was even better."
The top five cars were from the LMP2 class as they took advantage of superior cornering abilities on the 3.048-mile, 15-turn circuit. Luis Diaz was third for Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Acura, just 0.292 seconds behind Bernhard. Diaz will team with Adrian Fernandez.
In all, the first nine cars were separated by just 0.853 seconds. It was the tightest qualifying session ever seen in the Series.
"It is very good competition. It is what we always asked for, and now we have it," Bernhard said. "I have never seen so many cars driving as fast as they can on the edge."
Marco Werner was first in LMP1 for Audi Sport North America but sixth overall in the Audi R10 TDI he will drive with Lucas Luhr. Werner's lap of 1:31.590 (119.803 mph) was enough for his ninth Series pole and put him a scant 0.207 seconds ahead of Frank Biela in the second diesel-powered Audi that also will be driven by Emanuele Pirro.
The Audis have been searching for its sweet spot throughout the weekend. At times, Werner almost sounded perplexed as the team tried a number of different solutions to find the right balance of straightline speed and handling in the corners.
"This weekend is very strange," he said. "We have a lot more downforce than we've had before this year, which is not so good for us. I suggested my idea that we're not going forward, let's go back and try to take some downforce off. But during the qualifying run I went out for the first time with the new setup and it was hard to drive. I could feel the tires being used up and knew what I had done was going to be the best time I had."
Luhr and Werner enter Miller Motorsports Park having won the last two overall races. And despite their overall position, all is not lost for Sunday's race. The duo started sixth overall at Long Beach and still managed to post an impressive victory.
"This track is not really built for us," Werner said. "It is a very fast track but you change directions so many times that it is hard for us with all of the weight we have. If you see, the four-tenths to pole position is not a very big gap but we are so far back. I'm hoping for a good start tomorrow and hopefully a really good race."
Jon Field qualified Intersport Racing's E85-powered Lola-AER third in P1 and 11th overall.
Olivier Beretta put Corvette Racing's No. 4 Corvette C6.R on the GT1 pole position for the second time this season. Beretta's time of 1:43.869 (105.641 mph) was just 0.175 seconds ahead of Johnny O'Connell in the sister Corvette. Beretta took his second pole of the season after qualifying out front in class at St. Petersburg.
If anyone believes in trends, then Beretta and Gavin are in a good spot. The pole-sitting car in class has gone on to win each of the previous three races in the Series.
"We are allowed to race but not allowed to crash each other," Beretta said, nixing the idea of team orders. "There has to be a safe place to do it and make sure not to crash our sister car."
O'Connell and Jan Magnussen had been quickest in each of the three previous sessions but Beretta and Gavin won last year at Miller Motorsports Park. This also serves as the team's final warmup before next month's 24 Hours of Le Mans, so there is added attention to every little detail, Beretta said. That's the reason Corvette has won in class there five times in the last seven years.
"We've started working on our aero package for Le Mans and we've been sharing our setups between the two cars," said Beretta, who leads all Series drivers with 22 pole positions. "Then we switched to some fresh tires before the qualifying and everything linked up. It's very important to have a good race here and keep it out of trouble. This is a great preparation for Le Mans but the cars need to be in good shape because we'll need them there. Le Mans is the most important race to us and we are going there very confident and hope we will do very well."
Flying Lizard Motorsports' Wolf Henzler took the GT2 pole position in a dead heat with Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo. Both drivers turned in a lap of 1:47.135 (102.420 mph) but Henzler's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR posted the time first and was awarded the top spot.
"It was such an exciting end to qualifying. It came down to the last car," Henzler said. "We both did a good lap. The team was watching the TV and he did the same lap time. It's unbelievable that two cars did the same time. Fortunately I did it first so we have pole position. It's a great day for Porsche."
It almost wasn't one for Henzler. Early the session, he locked up his brakes under cornering and went off track, collecting a large amount of dust and debris on the car and Michelin tires.
"The next two laps I had no grip, lots of understeer and oversteer," he said. "I thought, 'That is it, qualifying is over.' But then all of the sudden the car came back and I put down the best lap right after that."
Henzler will team with Jorg Bergmeister, the duo looking for their first victory since winning Sebring with Marc Lieb. On the other hand, Melo and Mika Salo are looking for their first win of the season in the Ferrari F430 GT after winning nine times and the class championship last season.
Henzler's pole was his second of the season and followed the first of his career at St. Petersburg in the second race of the season. It also marks Flying Lizard's third consecutive class pole position as it looks to maintain its slim two-point lead in the GT2 team championship.
Patrick Pilet gave Flying Lizard third in class qualifying order at 1:47.252 (102.309 mph).
The Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels is set for Sunday, May 18 from Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. The green flag is scheduled for 1 p.m. MT with live television coverage on SPEED. Live radio coverage will be available on XM Satellite Radio Channel 144 and American Le Mans Radio at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.