Werner storms to pole at St. Petersburg

Werner storms to pole at St. Petersburg

Marco Werner almost pushed too hard to claim the pole position for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. Moments after clocking his fastest lap, the German spun his Audi R10 TDI entering Turn 8. Escaping damage, Werner sat out...

Marco Werner almost pushed too hard to claim the pole position for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. Moments after clocking his fastest lap, the German spun his Audi R10 TDI entering Turn 8. Escaping damage, Werner sat out the remainder of the 20-minute session. Despite facing a strong challenge from Penske Racing's Romain Dumas, the Audi will lead the field to the green flag tomorrow.

P1 and overall pole winner Marco Werner.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

Werner's record-breaking lap time of 1:02.825 was 0.753 seconds quicker than the second-placed and LM P2 class polesitter Romain Dumas. The German's lap could have been much quicker though if he hadn't spun.

"I was pushing very hard on my hot lap and was two-tenths better than the qualifying lap," Werner explained. "The Michelin tires were fantastic and I'm very happy with them. We had a little too much understeer and worked on the front for qualifying."

A red flag for debris halted the field six minutes into the prototype qualifying session, moments after Werner's spin. But unlike qualifying at the season-opening round at Sebring, this session resumed three minutes later. It provided the chance for others to knock Werner off the pole. However, nobody did.

The closest challenge came from Dumas, who initially nursed his No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder onto the racetrack. The Frenchman's day was also far from perfect, as he crashed into a LM GT2 Porsche in final practice. This sent the Penske squad into a mad scramble to repair the car, which suffered heavy rear suspension damage.

"The crew work was incredible," Dumas said. "Even Tim Cindric and Roger Penske were in there helping the mechanics. It was very funny to see. I was afraid, but they made the repair on time. We did one lap to make sure everything was all right."

After that, Dumas began ripping off quick laps, using every inch of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit. However, his best time of 1:03.578 posted on his fourth lap was his quickest.

"For sure I was pushing because I wanted to catch Marco," Dumas said. "The lap wasn't bad and it's possible we could do a little better. Last year I didn't' cross the start line first so I'm glad Marco is besides me so we can have a good start."

Werner, who shares his No. 2 Audi R10 TDI with Lucas Luhr, anticipates a close fight on race day. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello captured one of Audi's four overall wins here last year. However, Dumas, and co-driver Timo Bernhard are on a roll following their overall win at Sebring. Add in this year's new race length of one hour and 55 minutes, and it could be anyone's race.

#2 Audi Sport North America Audi R10 TDI: Lucas Luhr, Marco Werner.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

"It was a very close race last year and it's different this year with the distance," Werner said. "That makes strategy very important. The driver change will be even more important. The tires will be OK. We did close to 50 laps on one set of tires this morning."

Michelin-shod prototype teams are also benefiting from new "street soft" tires, designed to improve braking turn-in, mid-corner and power down at the exit of corners. Both Werner and Dumas are confident of the new compound.

Dumas led a P2 sweep of positions two through eight. David Brabham qualified his No. 9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b in third, with a 1:03.707 lap time. He will team with IndyCar veteran Scott Sharp.

Sascha Maassen put Penske's sister Porsche RS Spyder in the fourth overall starting position, clocking a 1:03.737 lap time. Patrick Long will join Maassen in the No. 6 machine.

Rounding out the top-five overall was Sebring runner-ups Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger, piloting the No. 20 Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyder.

Audi's Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela, who both make a welcome return to the series, turned the ninth best time overall, second in P1. They narrowly edged out the E85 cellulosic-fueled Intersport Racing Lola B06/10 Judd of Jon and Clint Field and Richard Berry.

Corvette Racing joined Interspot and Drayson-Barwell as E85-fueled entries, and their performance in qualifying didn't disappoint. Olivier Beretta scored the class pole, clocking a 1:09.727 lap time. The Monaco-born driver was 0.541 seconds quicker than the sister Corvette C6.R of Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen.

#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6R: Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

"I really do like St. Petersburg," Beretta said. "It is very well organized and it's special to race on the street. Qualifying was perfect. All I had to do was push and find a clear lap between the GT2 cars. I feel a little bit at home being born in Monaco. I've always liked street races and it's good for the fans."

Beretta, who teams with Oliver Gavin, didn't notice any performance decrease in running the E85.

"For us, it's the first time we've used E85," Beretta said. "I am quite surprised by the performance. It's at least as good as last year. The most important thing is that the performance is the same and it helps the environment. It may not be the right answer, but it's a start."

The Bell Motorsports Aston Martin of Terry Borcheller and Chapman Ducote inched closer to the Corvettes, but was still nearly two seconds off Beretta's lap time in qualifying.

In GT2, Wolf Henzler claimed his first career pole following a class record shattering lap time of 1:11.745. It was also Porsche's first class pole since 2006. Teaming with Jorg Bergmeister, the Flying Lizard Motorsports duo has made a great start to their 2008 season. After taking the class win at Sebring, the Porsche squad now looks to make it two-for-two.

"I've been close a couple of times and can't believe it," Henzler said of his first career pole. "The team gave me a really good car for qualifying. This morning the Ferrari looked really good but we came back this afternoon and had a better car this time. This has been the perfect start to the season."

#45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR: Jorg Bergmeister, Wolf Henzler.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

Henzler attributes much of the early success to the off-season work done by Porsche to transform its 911 GT3 RSR into a race-winning machine. Ferrari dominated the GT2 scene last year, but the Weissach, Germany-based marquee has shown improved pace in the first two race weekends of 2008.

"Porsche improved the car and did some things to the car, especially with the downforce and gearbox," Henzler said. "They are definitely better than last year."

Defending series class champions Mika Salo and Jamie Melo were right on the Lizard's tail, just 0.118 seconds back on the No. 45 Porsche. The Risi Competizione duo turned a 1:11.863 lap time, leading the Ferrari contingent.

Dirk Werner and Marc Basseng in the Farnbacher Loles Porsche was third, with a 1:12.581 lap time. Tafel Racing's Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher was fourth with the No. 46 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet rounding out the top-five.

The Drayson-Barwell crew will be spending a long night at the track, replacing the engine in its Aston Martin DBRS9. The British-based team ran into problems adjusting to a new mixture of E85, and suspect it could have damaged the powerplant. The team hopes to have the problem solved by also running a revised engine maping.

One team not as lucky is VICI Racing. Nathan Swartzbaugh was involved in Dumas' practice crash, causing chassis damage to the GT2 Porsche and sending the team packing up early.

Warm-up is set for 9:25 a.m. ET with a race start of 1:25 p.m. Rain is in the forecast, so that could throw up some challenges.

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