BERNHARD, PORSCHE DOMINATE IN THE DESERT Timo Bernhard said he was thrilled to see the American Le Mans Series return to road-course racing and Miller Motorsports Park. Just how glad he felt apparently wasn't completely evident...
BERNHARD, PORSCHE DOMINATE IN THE DESERT
Timo Bernhard said he was thrilled to see the American Le Mans Series return to road-course racing and Miller Motorsports Park. Just how glad he felt apparently wasn't completely evident until his record-setting qualifying performance on Friday. The German destroyed the Series' record book with his first overall pole position at the wheel of one of Penske Motorsports' Porsche RS Spyders for Saturday's Utah Grand Prix.
Bernhard's time of 2:18.128 smashed not just the previous LMP2 record set last year but also Frank Biela's overall mark from 2006 in an Audi R10 TDI by a full 3.5 seconds. Bernhard and Romain Dumas are going for their third consecutive overall victory.
"The car is brilliant. I don't have to tell you it was really, really good," he said. "I was concentrating on the out lap to get it right because I wanted to save the car's peak, and then I needed to get it in the first lap. I saw the time was good and I could bring it in because we need to save the tires for the race."
Sascha Maassen qualified the second Penske Porsche on the outside front row, 0.68 seconds behind Bernhard. The top seven positions were held by P2 cars with Luis Diaz third in Lowe's Fernandez Racing's Acura-powered Lola at 2:19.443.
Penske won in class here last year with Maassen and Lucas Luhr, and the two RS Spyders tested at the track Monday. Obviously the team learned something.
"We gained a lot from the experience from last year," Bernhard said. "We could put the information from last year and then excel. The aero in the car was really good, and we could change it the way we liked and make the car go anywhere we wanted. For sure we developed the car further because there is strict competition in LMP2 so we had to do a lot to make the car better."
Dindo Capello put the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI he will share with Allan McNish on the LMP1 pole but qualified in the eighth position overall. His time of 2:21.043 was about a half-second under Biela's time last season but still put him nearly three seconds behind Dumas.
The Audi camp had said that the 4.5-mile, 24-turn layout at Miller would favor the diesel prototype much more than the three street circuits on which the Series previously ran. But Capello didn't know the Porsches and Acuras would be as strong as they showed Friday.
"It shows that our forecasts were right but that the other cars are that much quicker," Capello said. "I might have been 2 to 3 tenths quicker, but that is it. We were really on the limit. We knew the gap would be very big, but we thought that maybe the simulation was wrong about the LMP2 cars. I guess it was right. If you compare our laps to last year, this car is very good. But the lap time Timo did is fantastic. It means he has a good car for sure."
The sister Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner were second in class and ninth overall, just 0.407 behind Capello. Intersport Racing's Creation-Judd was third in class.
"We are right where we thought we could be," Capello said. "I think maybe there is something in the balance that we are fighting with because it would be different if just one or two cars were faster. But since it's almost all the LMP2 cars there must be something with the unbalance. If you watch the qualifying or free practice, when we are following cars, we are losing a lot on the medium corners. Even though the straight is very long we don't have as much of the advantage we had last year. What we gain there is nothing compared to what we lose to the medium speed corners."
Oliver Gavin scored his 13th career GT1 pole position with a time of 2:35.697 as Corvette Racing continues its preparations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two Corvette C6.Rs are electing to run their Le Mans aero package at Miller, which has many of the same characteristics as the 8.3- mile circuit.
"We ran that toward the end of practice (Thursday)," said Gavin, who will team with Olivier Beretta. "We're ironing out some issues we've had with the tires and trying to get everything sorted out. The track has good flow to it, and it has some corners that you can relate to Le Mans. But just because it's a couple of weeks before we go over, it's an ideal time."
Gavin's time was nearly a full three seconds faster than Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette he is sharing with Johnny O'Connell. The pairing won the last time out at Houston and had their eyes on pole position until Magnussen ran through one of the corners in the expansive infield.
Gavin had a spin of his own on his second flying lap that may put the Corvette at the rear of the field should the No. 4 have to change tires.
"I did a really good first lap but on the start of the second lap I thought I could brake a little later but ended up spinning," he said. "I nearly caught it but just ran out of track. It was a bit of a shame. I think the tires were damaged just enough so we'll have to change, so we may have to start from the back."
Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing's Tomas Enge continued his storybook weekend with a GT2 pole position in his first race back from a horrific crash six weeks ago at St. Petersburg. He set a class record in the team's Ferrari F430 GT with a lap of 2:43.226 to outpace defending race winner Jaime Melo from Risi Competizione in another Ferrari by 0.315 seconds.
Enge suffered a shattered left elbow, broken ribs and punctured lung and other injuries in the crash. He returned to the race car last weekend at Miller and showed he hasn't missed a beat.
"I couldn't believe I could do this time or beat Jaime's time because it was a pretty good one," said Enge, who will drive with Darren Turner. "I have to thank Mike Petersen to give me the chance to drive this car again and everyone at the team for making this car so good.
"(The injuries) are still painful and I still have problems correcting the car when we have problems," he added. "When you try to drive on the limit and can't use your left hand, your right hand has to work twice as hard. But the car is working so good."
Enge's GT2 mark Friday can go alongside the GT1 record he set last year in an Aston Martin DBR9. He and Turner beat the Corvettes for a class win last season and so far things look very good for another win, this time in GT2. The car was quickest Thursday and in Friday morning's practice session.
"It is a quite challenging track. It's not easy to find the right line and the right rhythm," Enge said. "It's all about aero here and run with as much downforce as possible. We made some changes just before qualifying that helped us flow as fast as possible through the corners."
After the two Ferraris, Jorg Bergmeister was next quickest and was the fastest of the Porsche drivers at 2:44.162 for Flying Lizard Motorsports. Porsches held the third, fourth and fifth positions in class.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Utah Grand Prix, set for 5:05 p.m. MT on Saturday, May 19 from Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City. It will air live on XM Satellite Radio's Sports Nation channel. CBS Sports will air the race at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 20. MotorsTV in Europe, SPEED Latin America and 7TV in Russia also will provide international coverage. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing and Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.