David Reininger - Motorsport News International

Homestead, FL (October 17, 1998) - Ricardo Zonta set the fastest lap of the weekend in this morning's first qualifying session. Zonta, driving for the AMG Mercedes team, which is undefeated this season, shares his Mercedes CLK LM with Klaus Lugwig. But it was Zonta who got the call to qualify the car this morning.

Zonta took a short off track excursion this afternoon trying to better his morning time. "This morning, I didn't push too hard going into the second corner," said Zonta. "This afternoon, I was pushing too hard. I went off the track, lost the entrance to the next corner and spun. But I had good luck as nobody improved. The car is perfect, and the track was better in the afternoon. I could have been two tenths faster."

The GT1 cars have the track to themselves for the first fifteen minutes of qualifying before the slower GT2 are allowed on the circuit. Bernd Schneider, also driving for AMG Mercedes, had initially set the fastest lap but Zonta managed a lap of 1:14.298 just before the GT2 cars came on the track. The No. 1 Mercedes of Schneider and Webber ended up second with a time of 1:15.156.

The Mercedes team tested their CLK LM cars here in April, prior to racing at Le Mans in June. The CLK LM is a special version of the CLK GTR, developed for Le Mans, hence the LM designation. The car can be identified by the air intakes on the left and right inside of the wings. The CLK GTR was powered by a V-12 engine while the new LM version sports a V-8. The lighter, more compact eight-cylinder results in a lower center of gravity, better weight distribution and improved handling. Other changes include a relocation of radiators and related ducts from the nose to the door sills, producing a more aerodynamically slippery shape, perfect for the long, high-speed straights of Le Mans. Mark Webber pointed out that the endurance tests held in April did little to help the team's performance this weekend.

"We tested our Le Mans configuration here, it was a low downforce set up," said Webber.

The only other team to test here was the French DAMS Panoz team. Panoz has two cars running in the USRRC. Eric Bernard and David Brabham are two of the main competitors in this series and they recently tried out the track. "The fasts corners are the best part of the track," said Brabham, "There are good opportunities for passing. It will make for an interesting race."

With the AMG Mercedes team on the front row, Porsche AG will fill out the second row. The No. 8 car driven by Muller and Alzen was the fastest of the pair with a lap timed at 1:14.915.

"We've had problems with the car for sometime, in the chassis area," Jorg Muller said, "That means we have been about half a second behind the No. 7 car. But no one at Porsche has given up, not even now with Mercedes running away with the Championship. They are still working, still developing, working on the chassis, to try and get to the front again." The factory Porsche of Yannick Dalmas and Allan McNish will start on the outside of the second row for tomorrow's 500K race.