ALMS Thursday report

ALMS TEAMS SOLID IN QUALIFYING FOR 73RD RUNNING OF LE MANS Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series teams did themselves proud Thursday in qualifying for the 73rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Of the 13 teams entered in the world's most...

ALMS TEAMS SOLID IN QUALIFYING FOR 73RD RUNNING OF LE MANS

Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series teams did themselves proud Thursday in qualifying for the 73rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Of the 13 teams entered in the world's most famous sports car race, eight will start in the top three of their respective classes when the green flag drops Saturday.

Near the top of the speed chart, the No. 2 Champion Racing Audi R8 qualified third overall with a lap of 3:37.795, a little more than three seconds behind the pole-sitting No. 16 Pescarolo Judd. Allan McNish set the time in the R8, which has been saddled with a number of restrictions, including 50 kilograms of added weight, a smaller fuel tank and less air into the engine.

McNish, who won at Le Mans in 1998, is splitting time behind the wheel with Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela, who each have won there three times each.

"You can always make laps a little better," McNish said. "The tires weren't warm and that compromises you. We've gotten into the game with our good position. We didn't want to sit down in 10th or 11th. We anticipated sixth. Third is a bonus."

The sister car, the No. 3 Champion Audi R8, was eighth overall at 3:38.988. JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and six-time race winner Tom Kristensen are in the driver's seat.

In GT2, ALMS teams posted the three fastest qualifying times and five of the quickest six. Leading the way was the No. 71 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Mike Rockenfeller, Marc Lieb and Leo Hindery, which turned a lap of 4:05.326. The trio was more than 0.7 seconds faster than the No. 80 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek, Lonnie Pechnik and Seth Neiman, all three who are making their Le Mans debut.

"We didn't expect it (the class pole)," said Rockenfeller, in only his second Le Mans race. "We didn't have qualifying tires, so we used race tires. Yokohama brought a great tire to Le Mans. Marc had some good laps, and Leo had some good laps. It's good to be on pole, but it's a 24-hour race."

Added Hindery, "It's easy to do well when Mike is in the car. He's a wonderful driver, as is Marc Lieb. We did exactly what we wanted to do, which was get it set up for the race. We replaced the engine and shook it down the first hour. With a 4:05.3, we're in great shape for the race."

About half a second behind the Flying Lizard trio was the No. 77 Panoz Motor Sports Esperante GTLM of Bill Auberlen, Robin Liddell and Scott Maxwell. The American-made entry was at 4:07.027, more than two seconds ahead of the No. 78 Panoz of Bryan Sellers, Marino Franchitti and Patrick Bourdais. It was fifth in class.

Two-time defending class champion Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing struggled Thursday and was just sixth in class at 4:11.105. The No. 90 Porsche went off course during Thursday's evening session with Jorg Bergmeister behind the wheel. "It had giant oversteer and just lost it," said the German, driving with Patrick Long and Timo Bernhard. "We're trying to see where it came from."

The most damage was concentrated on the front fender and bumper, right front radiator and plumbing, as well the headlight. The team said it will have the Porsche repaired in time for Saturday's warm-up.

As in Wednesday's qualifying session, the two-car Aston Martin Racing team dominated in GT1 and will start 1-2 in class. The No. 58 of Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Pedro Lamy posted a time of 3:48.576, more than a second faster than the No. 59 sister DBR9 of David Brabham, Darren Turner and Stephane Sarrazin.

The No. 64 Corvette Racing C6-R of was closest to the Aston Martins at 3:52.426. The trio of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen will start third in GT1 as they try for a class repeat. The No. 63 C6-R of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Max Papis will start fifth in class after a somewhat disappointing 3:55.914.

But Fellows and GM Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan weren't panicking, even after the team changed gearboxes on the No. 63 during Thursday's early session. "That is part of the plan," Fellows said. "There are so many straights that we wanted to make a change. Part of our plan is to make as good a race car as possible. We're chasing it a little trying to make it comfortable for 24 hours. We're racing for the weekend."

Fehan added, "We have a pretty strong plan in place before we came here. We try not to deviate from that unless we have to. So we're pretty comfortable with that."

In LMP2, the No. 32 Intersport Racing Lola of Sam Hancock, Gregor Fisken and Liz Halliday was second in class at 3:44.752. The car posted the fastest LMP2 times Wednesday and in the June 5 test session.

"The car is absolutely fantastic," Fisken said. "The way the downforce takes you around the corners, I'm incapable of putting into words how it feels. It just says 'Come on, give me some more.'"

Two spots back was Miracle Motorsports' No. 34 Courage of Andy Lally, Ian James and John Macaluso (3:48.819).

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast on SPEED Channel starting at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday.

The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the New England Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. July 4 at Lime Rock Park. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED (3 to 6 p.m. EDT) and on MotorsTV in Europe, reaching 40 million viewers in 21 countries as well as at www.americanlemans.com.

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About this article
Series ALMS , Le Mans
Drivers David Brabham , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Frank Biela , Max Papis , Darren Turner , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Robin Liddell , Bill Auberlen , Leo Hindery , Andy Lally , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Peter Kox , Timo Bernhard , John Macaluso , Patrick Long , Marino Franchitti , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Marc Lieb , Gregor Fisken , Seth Neiman , Bryan Sellers , Olivier Beretta , Mike Rockenfeller , Liz Halliday , Sam Hancock , Alex Job , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto
Teams Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Alex Job Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports