Zonta and Schneider Share Front Row at Laguna Team AMG-Mercedes Claims Eighth FIA GT Pole of Season
MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 24, 1998) – AMG-Mercedes driver Ricardo Zonta scored his fourth pole position of the 1998 FIA GT Championship at Laguna Seca Raceway, site of tomorrow’s season-ending Visa Sports Car Championships. Teammate Bernd Schneider, the defending race and series champion and, like Zonta, a four-time pole sitter in 1998, will share the front row of the starting grid with the young Brazilian star. It was the eighth one-two in the tenth race of the year, and since the CLK-LM was introduced in the third race of the season, both cars that are entered in the FIA GT Championship have been on the first row at every race.
"My qualifying lap was really good but not without a problem," said the 23-year-old Zonta. "Because I experienced a little brake balance problem, I got off-line in the last corner where it was a little wet. That might have cost me some time."
Zonta’s quick lap of 1m16.154s was 0.434 seconds faster than Schneider’s and nearly 1.8 seconds faster than last year’s pole-winning lap of 1m17.941s, set by Alexander Wurz in the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR.
Zonta and co-driver Klaus Ludwig lead the championship by a margin of four points over fellow AMG-Mercedes pair of Schneider and Mark Webber going into tomorrow’s 139-lap, 500-km race.
"I’m really enjoying my last weekend as a driver," said Ludwig, who will conclude his 29-year racing career following the event. "With Ricardo doing so well again, I’m really proud to have him as a teammate. He is a rising star on his way to Formula One."
Schneider said, "It was a tough qualifying session. I had to fight very hard. On my quick lap, I went wide on the second-to-last corner, picked up some dirt on my tires and just barely held on to it. I lost a few tenths. But tomorrow is another day, and race tactics will play an important part."
Schneider and Webber must score at least four more points than Ludwig and Zonta tomorrow. The point totals will then be even, but Schneider and Webber will be champions having scored five wins this season to Ludwig and Zonta’s four. AMG-Mercedes clinched its second-consecutive FIA GT team title at Donington Park, England, in early September.
Persson Motorsport drivers Christophe Bouchut (paired with Bernd Maylaender) and Jean-Marc Gounon (paired with Marcel Tiemann) qualified their 1997 Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTRs sixth and seventh, Bouchut missing the second row of the grid by just one-tenth of a second.