Utah: Series qualifying report

Frenchman fastest qualifier in return to Miller Motorsports Park Simon Pagenaud was the fastest qualifer at Miller Motorsports Park on Saturday for de Ferran Motorsports and Acura. Simon Pagenaud captured pole position for de Ferran Motorsports...

Frenchman fastest qualifier in return to Miller Motorsports Park

Simon Pagenaud was the fastest qualifer at Miller Motorsports Park on Saturday for de Ferran Motorsports and Acura. Simon Pagenaud captured pole position for de Ferran Motorsports with a new track record at the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix on Saturday, a year after the team's debut in the American Le Mans Series. Pagenaud qualified his Acura ARX-02a with a time of 1:30.645 (121.052 mph) to best David Brabham by 0.736 seconds.

Pagenaud and team owner Gil de Ferran will drive the XM Acura after placing third overall and in the LMP2 class last season. The de Ferran team moved up to LMP1 for 2009 and took its first victory in the last Series round at Long Beach. Pagenaud earned his second Series pole position after qualifying first at St. Petersburg.

Pagenaud's track record bested Timo Bernhard's qualifying lap from last year by 0.405 seconds and Marco Werner's P1 record by 0.945 seconds. The radical design of the ARX-02a, which features four tires of the same size on all four wheels, gives it an incredible amount of downforce that is ideal for the 3.048-mile, 15-turn circuit.

"This place especially really suits my driving style really well," said Pagenaud, who set the fastest lap of the race last year. "The philosophy we use to set-up the car at de Ferran Motorsports really suits this track well. The Acura is really behaving well because the aero was reworked. I'm really pleased that the engineers pushed me because it really paid off. The car is behaving fantastically on the track. It is amazing how fast we are really going. The front tires are a big advantage because we can brake late and never lock the front tires. So it can really give us something extra."

It has been a dynamite week for the young Frenchman. He was part of the winning Peugeot entry at the Spa 1,000-kilometer race last weekend. That came after he was the pole winner and set the race's fastest lap in a warmup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Patron Highcroft Racing's Brabham and teammate Scott Sharp lead the P1 championship after three rounds.

"Of course we want to do well," Pagenaud said. "We need to win as many races as we can to win the championship. So every time we go out we do our best. It's never easy to win. There could be two cars on track or 30 cars on track; there will always be someone faster than you."

The Corsa Motorsports Ginetta-Zytek 09HS prototype of Johnny Mowlem and Stefan Johansson qualified third in P1 and sixth overall. The revolutionary hybrid prototype is making its debut in the Series with Mowlem qualifying the car in 1:34.957 (115.555 mph). The car did not implement its hybrid mode during qualifying, however.

Luis Diaz went quickest in P2 qualifying for the second time this year. Luis Diaz gave Lowe's Fernandez Racing its fourth straight LMP2 pole in the Acura ARX-01b that he shares with Adrian Fernandez. Diaz's time of 1:32.749 (118.306 mph) was 0.764 seconds better than Dyson Racing's Butch Leitzinger in the Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupe that he will drive with Marino Franchitti.

Dyson Racing had been quickest in Friday's test session and Saturday morning's practice. But Diaz was the fastest in class during the pre-qualifying practice.

"The team made good changes for qualifying; we did a great job with those and did a good lap," said Diaz, who like Pagenaud won his first pole at St. Petersburg. "We have the right tire compound with the Michelins for tomorrow. So we are really looking good for the race."

Diaz and Fernandez are unbeaten this year in races and qualifying. They won the season-opener at Sebring on the famed road course before taking back-to-back street circuit victories. Returning to road courses means no concrete walls but a considerable amount of other dangers.

"Here you have to be watching for the speed difference between you and the GTs," Diaz said. "On the street courses you don't have these big speeds. For the prototypes you can really maximize the car here. You can have a Porsche off in the distance and by turn 1, 2 or 3 be on their bumper. It will pay to keep your nose clean tomorrow."

Flying Lizard's Jorg Bergmeister qualified on the GT2 pole. Jorg Bergmeister won the GT2 pole position in the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR that he will share with Patrick Long. The German Porsche factory driver set a class record with a lap of 1:47.210 (102.435 mph). His lap was 0.145 seconds better than Risi Competizione's Jamie Melo in a Ferrari F430 GT.

Bergmeister benefitted from a two-day test session the team held at the circuit after Long Beach. It went so well that he did only two qualifying laps, which turned out to be enough.

"The strategy was to save the tires," said Bergmeister, who won his first pole position since 2006. "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."

Bergmeister, who won his third GT2 driving championship last year, leads the title chase again with Long after wins at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. But there is something about being on natural terrain courses that suits him. He teamed to win at Miller Motorsports Park last year with Wolf Henzler.

"I like tracks like this. Not that I don't like street circuits but I enjoy faster tracks and faster corners," Bergmeister said. "I think we'll have a good race car. If you know the car very well, all you have to do is learn the track and things go quickly. We did a lot of work on the differential here and that made enough of an improvement."

Gruppe Orange's Carl Skerlong was the winner of the first Challenge class pole position with a lap of 1:56.166 in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry that he will share with Nick Parker. The Challenge class is new for the American Le Mans Series, offering an opportunity for teams and drivers from the Patron GT3 Challenge by Yokohama to step up to American Le Mans Series competition.

Skerlong's best lap was a slim 0.006 seconds ahead of Martin Snow in the Snow Racing Porsche. He will team with Melanie Snow. The husband-wife duo won in GTS during the first Series race in 1999 at Sebring.

Skerlong has raced at Miller Motorsports Park in two previous seasons including Formula Atlantic in 2008. This weekend is his first time racing a Porsche 911.

Carl Skerlong will go down in history as the first pole-winner in the new Challenge class. "This car weighs more and doesn't have as much power but it is such a fun car to drive," he said. "It's been a learning curve. Hopefully we can keep improving and perform just as well for the race. I did an hour Friday and an hour this morning in practice. To get this much seat time during the program has been great. So far it's been wonderful. Everything has gone so smoothly and has been great."

Bob Faieta, a two-time champion in IMSA GT3 competition, qualified third in class at 1:56.248 in the entry that he will share with Wesley Hoaglund.

The Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix from Miller Motorsports Park is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. MDT on Sunday, May 17. SPEED will broadcast the race starting at 10 p.m. EDT on the same day, and satellite radio subscribers to can listen to the race starting at 4 p.m. ET on Sirius 126 and XM 242. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing and Scoring will be available on Racehub at americanlemans.com. You can also follow the Series on Twitter.

The race also will include the season-long MICHELIN® Green X® Challenge. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com or millermotorsportspark.com.

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Stefan Johansson , Butch Leitzinger , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Adrian Fernandez , Luis Diaz , Jörg Bergmeister , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Johnny Mowlem , Martin Snow , Simon Pagenaud , Wesley Hoaglund , Carl Skerlong , Nick Parker , Melanie Snow , Bob Faieta
Teams Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports