Utah: Series qualifying report

Simon Pagenaud captured his second straight pole position at the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix on Saturday. The sterling Frenchman set a best lap of 1:34.350 (116.229 mph) in Patrón Highcroft Racing's HPD ARX- 01c that he will drive...

Simon Pagenaud captured his second straight pole position at the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix on Saturday. The sterling Frenchman set a best lap of 1:34.350 (116.229 mph) in Patrón Highcroft Racing's HPD ARX- 01c that he will drive with David Brabham.

Pagenaud, who won the race last year with Gil de Ferran, outpaced Drayson Racing's Jonny Cocker and his Lola B09/60-Judd coupe by 0.536 seconds. In last year's race, Pagenaud won the race, pole position and set the fastest race lap.

Yep, he likes it here.

"It's great to be back. This is a very beautiful track," said Pagenaud, who shares the LMP championship lead with teammate Brabham after victories in the last two races. "I just love how the car reacts here in the high-speed corners and the chicane. I love pretty much everything about this track. I don't know why I am so quick here."

It ultimately doesn't matter as long as it keeps up. The pole position may have come as a bit of surprise as the high altitude at Miller Motorsports Park puts the normally aspirated cars such as the Patrón Highcroft HPD ARX- 01c at a slight disadvantage compared to the turbo-powered prototypes. The lack of pressure means air can't be forced as quickly into the engine of the non-turbo cars.

But that's why they hold qualifying, as the saying goes. Despite the slight disadvantage, non-turbo cars qualified first, second and fourth on the grid with turbos third and fifth.

After the Drayson Lola which Cocker will share with 2006 overall race- winner Emanuele Pirro, Dyson Racing's Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupe was third fastest thanks to Chris Dyson's lap of 1:34.909 (115.614 mph). He will drive with Guy Smith.

"We tried to run a no-downforce setup to keep up with the Dyson's top speed," Pagenaud said. "We are usually so quick in the corners and we had to give some of that up. In just a few hours, we've made such a big improvement. Hats of to the team, we showed up with a completely different package and had to adjust.

"We won't be P1 in the corner at the start, I can tell you that right now," he added. "But we'll spend the least amount of time in the pits and rely on our team, crew and David to keep going quicker and quicker. Our strategy and fuel saving will be the key because the start will be dramatic."

Gunnar Jeannette captured his second LMP Challenge pole in four races with a lap of 1:42.592 (106.956 mph) in G-Oil's Green Earth Team Gunnar ORECA FLM09. A resident of the Salt Lake City area, Jeannette was 0.210 seconds quicker than Level 5 Motorsports' Christophe Bouchut.

GETG and Level 5 sit 1-2 in the class championship with Level 5 winning two races to GETG's one. But Jeannette leads the class with two pole positions.

"This is fantastic. If I could pick two tracks I wanted to be on pole it would be Sebring and here," Jeannette said. "This is my backyard so I'm ecstatic to be on pole. So far so good!"

Jeannette has been the quickest driver in class in all four sessions so far - Friday's test, and Saturday's two practices and qualifying. He said his familiarity with the circuit certainly didn't hurt, especially as the LMPC cars are racing at Utah for the first time.

"We've been struggling for grip all weekend," he said. "It's really tricky in a prototype; you sit very low and even with just a bit of elevation changes it's kind of hard to see. On such a race that's only two hours, 45 minutes, the farther up you are the better off you'll be. Some of the sections are tough to get by the GTs or GTCs because our top speeds are so similar. So if we don't get a good run on them, it's very difficult."

Alex Figge qualified third in the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry that he will drive with Max Hyatt. The car's best lap was a 1:43.115 (106.413 mph).

Gimmi Bruni led a 1-2 qualifying effort for Ferrari with his second career pole in the Series. The Italian turned a lap of 1:47.667 (101.914 mph) for Risi Competizione in the car he will drive with Jaime Melo. It was a tightly contested session with Bruni only 0.062 seconds better than Johannes van Overbeek in one of Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferraris. Jörg Bergmeister qualified third for Flying Lizard Motorsports and Porsche at 1:47.921 (101.674 mph).

"This track is very, very good," said Bruni, who has never raced at MMP before. "I started driving here last week with the two days testing. I'm really comfortable with the track. We've been really good from yesterday to qualifying. It was a mess getting caught with some GTCs, but you wait and you can get the good clear road. I was hoping for more of a gap but for sure it will make for a really good race tomorrow."

Especially if the race pace is as close as the qualifying pace. The top eight cars in class were within 0.883 seconds, quite remarkable given the expansive circuit layout.

"Ferrari brought me here with Jamie to battle with all of the other manufacturers," Bruni said. " We're fighting against all the other cars and putting in a lot of effort. If you win, you win. If you lose, you learn how to improve. It's the best drivers, best teams and best manufactures. I'm so happy to be here."

All four of the Ferraris are running on cellulosic E85 for the first time this weekend. In all, the top eight cars were all running on the biofuel.

In GT Challenge, Jeroen Bleekemolen earned his second straight pole position in class with a lap of 1:54.641 (95.714 mph) in Black Swan Racing's Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. Bleekemolen and team owner Tim Pappas led for the entire six-hour round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Series' last race.

"It's all about learning new tracks since they are all new to me," Bleekemolen said. "We struggled a bit. The other cars did a two-day test here but it was really good. I can't complain. This place is really nice, very fast. There is a lot of room for errors which makes you push really hard but you can get away with it."

Bleekemolen, a former Porsche Supercup champion and LMP2 champion at the Le Mans 24 Hours, was only 0.312 seconds better than Orbit Racing's Bryce Miller who was quickest in Saturday morning's practice and Friday's test session. Alex Job Racing's Luis Diaz was only 0.001 seconds behind Miller. Much like in GT, the gap between the top cars was small. Only 0.975 seconds separated the eight fastest cars.

"A few mistakes can cost you two- or three-tenths with our cars," he said. "You have to be focused the whole time. By not making mistakes is what gives you the best time."

-source: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Guy Smith , Gil de Ferran , Luis Diaz , Jaime Melo , Gunnar Jeannette , Tim Pappas , Johannes van Overbeek , Christophe Bouchut , Alex Figge , Jeroen Bleekemolen , Simon Pagenaud , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , Jonny Cocker , Max Hyatt , Emanuele Pirro
Teams ESM Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing , Alex Job Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports