Mexico City: Thursday practice report

Auberlen Tops First Practice Day for Mexico City 400k at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez MEXICO CITY, Mexico (March 1, 2007) -- Just as the checkered flag fell to conclude the second of two practice sessions Bill Auberlen turned a lap at 1:22.458...

Auberlen Tops First Practice Day for Mexico City 400k at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (March 1, 2007) -- Just as the checkered flag fell to conclude the second of two practice sessions Bill Auberlen turned a lap at 1:22.458 (109.146 mph) in the No. 05 Luggage Express Sigalsport BMW Riley to lead the first day of practice in preparation for Saturday's Mexico City 400k at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (SPEED, Live, 4 p.m. ET).

Auberlen's lap was quicker than the existing Rolex Series track record of 1:22.732 (108.785 mph) established by Scott Pruett in qualifying last year. Auberlen--who is sharing the No. 05 machine with Matthew Alhadeff--hovered just outside the top five throughout the latter stages of the session before turning in his last-lap flyer to knock Oswaldo Negri's No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley off the top of the time charts. Saturday's race will be Auberlen's first at Mexico City in a Daytona Prototype, but the two-time Rolex Series GT champion drove in the GT class in both previous Rolex Series events at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, scoring a second-place class result in the inaugural event in 2005.

"We pulled that off with just seconds to spare," Auberlen said. "We were panicking a little, but the car was there all the time. We were always around the top but in the first practice session we had a little gearbox melee. We got the gearbox resolved but it cost us a little time in the second session. We then evaluated some sway bar settings, tried a new spring and just threw darts at the board. Matt (Alhadeff) drove first and I took over and we put on some new tires. I put together two flyers at the end, got balked on the first one but the second one got it done. This just shows that this team has the pieces. They give me a lot of freedom of spending their money and let me go out and just buy what we need. I don't think (owner) Gene (Sigal) likes it so much but it shows the commitment."

Negri vaulted to the top of the time charts himself in the final five minutes of the session and claimed the top spot with less than two minutes remaining with a lap at 1:22.554 (109.020 mph) before Auberlen posted his quick time. Negri led the opening day of practice at Mexico City last year but a crash during practice prior to qualifying last year left him and co-driver Mark Patterson behind the eight ball for the remainder of the weekend. He and Patterson will look to avoid a similar fate this weekend.

"We are not quite where we want to be yet, but this was a good start for us," said Negri. "The biggest thing is that Mark did a great job today. He was really quick here last year, but today he was even faster even when he was running with tires that had a lot of laps on them, so that's very encouraging for the race. Michael Shank Racing has once again prepared a great car and the Lexus guys have been fantastic, so there's no question I'm optimistic about this weekend. I am also really excited to be racing back in Mexico once again."

Third quickest on the day was Jan Magnussen in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley with a lap at 1:22.644 (108.901 mph). Both Magnussen and co-driver Max Angelelli were quick in Thursday's practice sessions on the historic, 2.5-mile road course, and Angelelli turned the fastest time during the day's first practice session. The duo enters Saturday's race looking for their first victory since the Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last May.

"I'm happy with the way today went," Magnussen said. "I got a lot of laps and time in the car. I did most of that last session. We still have some work to do, but it's a really good place to start. It looks like we've got a good setup for qualifying. Now we have to tune the car so it will be as ideal as possible for the race, and I'm sure we will get that done tomorrow and Saturday morning. The track was a little slippery at the start today, but we're good to go with the weather, which means the track will get better and better as we go along."

Marc Goossens--who drove a NASCAR Busch Series car at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez last year--was fourth-quickest on the day in the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley with a lap at 1:23.931 (107.231 mph). Goossens is co-driving the No. 91 machine with Jim Matthews this weekend.

Defending Mexico City 400k winner Scott Pruett completed the top five in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley with a lap at 1:23.018 (108.410 mph). The 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion is being joined for the first time this weekend by new co-driver Memo Rojas as he looks to defend the team's victory from last year.

The top 10 cars in the final practice session were covered by less than one second.

PUMPELLY TAKES TOP SPOT IN GT PRACTICE AT MEXICO CITY

With slightly more than 10 minutes remaining in the session, Spencer Pumpelly turned a lap at 1:29.966 (100.038 mph) to claim the top spot in Rolex Series GT class practice at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Pumpelly was the only GT driver to top the 100-mph barrier in Thursday's practice sessions.

Pumpelly is sharing the No. 67 machine with 18-year-old Scott Schroeder, who is making his Rolex Series debut this weekend. Schroeder, who competed in the season-opening Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series event at Daytona International Speedway in January, turned testing laps within one second of his considerably more experienced co-driver.

"The track gets better and better each session and the times will keep dropping," Pumpelly said. "The track is bumpy in parts and the Porsche handles it pretty well, but the Mazdas and the (Pontiac) GXPs will be good too. I don't have a lot of laps here but the TRG guys put together a really great effort and I love the fast track. This is one of our best events and I love Mexico and the people. Our biggest plus is the winning experience TRG has here. I am glad I am here with a team as good as TRG."

Second-quickest in GT was Andrew Davis in the No. 72 North South Machinery/ANCA/Dunkel Bros/Tornos Porsche GT3 at 1:30.139 (99.846 mph). Davis is co-driving the No. 72 Tafel Racing machine with Nathan Swartzbaugh and both drivers are looking for their first GT victory in the Rolex Series this weekend.

"The track is super dirty like last year but that will get better," Davis said. "We made some changes -- right in pit lane -- and they worked out. The Tafel Racing team does a real good job and our Porsche is fast. I wouldn't say Porsche is the car to beat as the other cars and guys are going to be quick, but I am proud of the team. We tried a lot in two sessions and it showed at the end."

Third-quickest in GT was Kelly Collins in the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R with a lap at 1:1:30.563 (99.373 mph). Collins--who won the GT class in last year's Mexico City 400k--is sharing the No. 07 machine with Paul Edwards, who has won the GT class in both previous Rolex Series events in Mexico.

SpeedSource owner/driver Sylvain Tremblay was fourth-quickest in GT with a lap at 1:30.626 (99.309 mph) in the No. 70 Mazda/Mazdaspeed RX-8 he is sharing with Nick Ham, and Wolf Henzler rounded out the class top five in the No. 74 Rembrandt Charms/Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 at 1:30.642 (99.292 mph). Henzler's co-driver is 18-year-old Eric Lux.

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Paul Edwards , Jan Magnussen , Scott Pruett , Marc Goossens , Bill Auberlen , Kelly Collins , Max Angelelli , Sylvain Tremblay , Memo Rojas , Andrew Davis , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Nick Ham , Mark Patterson , Wolf Henzler , Eric Lux , Matthew Alhadeff , Michael Shank , Scott Schroeder
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , SpeedSource , Michael Shank Racing