Team AMG Mercedes to Start One-Two at Homestead Brazilian Ricardo Zonta Takes Pole Over Charging Bernd Schneider
Ricardo Zonta put his Mercedes CLK-LM on pole today (1:14.298 seconds) while Bernd Schneider qualified number two (1:14.400 seconds) for tomorrow's FIA GT Championship race presented by Mercedes- Benz at the 2.21-mile road course at the Homestead Motorsports Complex. Zonta was able to hold the top position despite spinning into the gravel trap at turn two very late in the session.
Mercedes' one-two qualifying result set the stage for tomorrow's battle for the driver's championship between Klaus Ludwig and Zonta versus teammates Schneider and Mark Webber. Schneider and Webber currently lead Ludwig and Zonta by only three points, 60 to 57, for the driver's championship.
"The first qualifying session this morning was really good," said Zonta, who, with Ludwig, has three wins this season. "At the end I was pushing too hard and lost grip at the exit of the second corner. I was really trying because Bernd was very good and he was getting close to my time."
Ludwig was pleased with his car and likes his chances Sunday. "The car was perfect. Bridgestone is really setting the pace. So far, so good. I thought it would be astounding if anyone passed our time from this morning," he said.
Ludwig and Zonta's approach to the second and final qualifying sesssion was quite different from that of their Team AMG Mercedes teammates Schneider and Webber. After performing a couple of laps early on to make sure his CLK-LM was working properly, Zonta parked his Silver Arrows machine waiting to attempt fast laps in the final minutes of qualifying. Schneider, on the other hand, began his attempt at earning the pole from the very start, and made several pit stops while his crew worked on suspension settings trying to find the key to faster lap times.
"We're slightly disappointed. Although Ricardo's morning time was very quick, I'm sure I had a good chance of taking over the pole position this afternoon," said Schneider, who has won five races this season with Webber. "I started late on my set of qualifying tires, and didn't have enough time to get them to optimum operating temperature prior to the end of the sesssion."
Mark Webber worked on the race setup during his stint in morning qualifying. "Tomorrow's race should be fantastic. Bernd and I hope to take the victory away from these guys. On the race setup, the car was quite good," he said.
The Porsche 911 GT1-98 of Uwe Alzen and Joerg Mueller earned the third starting position (1:15.156 seconds). Starting fourth is the Yannick Dalmas and Allan McNish Porsche 911 GT1-98 (1:15.132 seconds).
Starting after the French Panoz GTR of Eric Bernard and David Brabham (1:15.139 seconds) are the two Team Persson Motorsport Mercedes CLK-GTRs of Jean-Marc Gounon/Marcel Tiemann and Christophe Bouchot/Bernd Maylaender, who qualified sixth and seventh respectively. The Gounon/Tiemann CLK-GTR turned in a fast lap of 1:15.382 seconds, while the Bouchut/Maylaender CLK-GTR's quickest lap was 1:15.680 seconds.
"I might have beaten the time of the Panoz, had I not lost time due to Zonta's spin. I was on a fast lap at the time, and then when we resumed the track was quite dirty and there was less grip," said Gounon.
Bouchut, meanwhile, struggled with mechanical troubles during his run in qualifying. "Unfortunately we were unable to show our full potential today. I lost fourth gear, and that made it impossible to run a fast lap on our qualifying tires," he said.
Tomorrow's 143-lap race will begin at 1:15 p.m., and will be broadcast live on Speedvision.