As Gil de Ferran plans on riding off into the sunset -- at least as a driver -- after this year, he is still proving he intends to go out on top having lost none of his speed. Pole winner Gil de Ferran celebrates. Photo by Richard ...
As Gil de Ferran plans on riding off into the sunset -- at least as a driver -- after this year, he is still proving he intends to go out on top having lost none of his speed.
The driver/owner for de Ferran Motorsports piloted his Acura ARX-02a to the car's fourth consecutive pole position, his second in a row, in advance of the American Le Mans Series' Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase on Sunday afternoon.
"We really had a great run here since we unloaded the car," de Ferran said. "The credit for the pole position has to go to our engineers and trying to honor them at the race track. I understand what we have done so far this year. We have done quite well making small adjustments. For me this feels great, at one of my favorite racetracks."
De Ferran set the bar at 1:48.216, a full eight-tenths up on the sister Acura in P1 of Patron Highcroft Racing. David Brabham starts on the outside pole at a time of 1:49.039. De Ferran shares his car with Simon Pagenaud, Brabham with Scott Sharp, same as usual.
Jon Field's Intersport Lola B06/10 AER was second quickest in two of the three practice sessions but had an engine problem that blighted them after one lap in qualifying. Field, who co-drives with son Clint, put in a time good enough for fourth in class, behind the sister Lola of Autocon Motorsports and ahead of the Corsa Motorsports Ginetta Zytek 09HS, which did not set a time.
In P2, Marino Franchitti gave Dyson Racing's Lola B09/86 Mazda its first class pole position this season. This ends the string of poles by Acura and Porsche dating to 2005, and is Mazda's first ever in ALMS competition. Franchitti has one additional pole position, set in 2004 at Sebring in a Lola Nissan.
"We really wanted pole but this is what you want, when you have raw speed, no strategy or anything else," Franchitti said. "It has definitely been a step-by-step thing. I have to thank Butch (co-driver Leitzinger) who made some setup changes, he should be here as well."
The team has also won pole positions at Road America in 2005 and 2003 with James Weaver and Leitzinger, respectively. Veteran team owner Rob Dyson reflected on the team's progress this season and confirmed that the paychecks come on Sundays.
"We won qualifying which is great but what we want is win on the boards tomorrow," Dyson said. "I always tell the guys -- pay day is Sunday. I'm really impressed with what Marino did. It's a culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of development work. It's a pleasure to be out doing what we're doing, on any basis, and certainly when you put the car on the sharp end of the grid like Marino did."
The P2 grid concludes with Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz in Fernandez's Acura ARX-01b, the sister Dyson Lola Mazda of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson, and the Team Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder of Klaus Graf and Greg Pickett.
Fernandez set his fastest time while running wide on the exit of Turn 14, a time of 1:51.222 not enough to unseat Franchitti's 1:51.010. Smith's car spent most of the session in the garage while the Porsche discovered nagging electrical issues toward the end of the final practice session, fixing their issues and prepping for Sunday.
GT2 saw the Rahal Letterman Racing BMW E92 M3 in the hands of Joey Hand (#90) and Dirk Mueller (#92) on Dunlop tires sweep the front row, earning the team their first pole this season and BMW's first since J.J. Lehto put an M3 GTR on the class pole at the 2001 Petit Le Mans.
"I told my wife before I flew out here that I just felt good about it," Hand, an admitted pessimist, related. "We've rolled off the truck very fast. I go in sometimes fearing the worst. But I came in this week with a different attitude. When you do that, you feel more comfortable."
Hand and Mueller each ran under the lap record that was formerly held in 2007. Hand set a time of 2:06.950, Mueller a 2:07.073. Hand will co-drive with Bill Auberlen, Mueller with Tom Milner in Sunday's race.
The grid lines up in formation by manufacturer to a degree. After the BMWs comes the Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Joerg Bergmeister, co-driving with Patrick Long, then the two new Corvette C6.Rs and the Farnbacher Loles Porsche. The Risi Ferrari of Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer starts 7th. Those seven are separated by all of 0.790 of a second, a mere fraction around such a long course.
Both Corvette and Farnbacher Loles won their respective classes last year at this race (GT1 and GT2) but it's been an uphill battle to unseat the Lizards as kings of GT2. The Long/Bergmeister duo is searching for their sixth consecutive class victory and if they can convert, would give Porsche its 100th victory in ALMS competition (74th in GT2).
Porsche also has the chance at the milestone victory, in a landmark ALMS season that has also included the series' 100th race and the 100th win for Michelin, in P2 with the Cytosport RS Spyder.
Porsche is guaranteed a victory in the ALMS Challenge division (it is not considered part of the classes to win 100 events) with five GT3 Cups entered. Guy Cosmo scored the pole, his second in a row in an Orbit Racing-prepared car. Cosmo shares the car with John Baker, whom he also coaches.
"There is plenty of room for all the other cars to get around us," Cosmo explained on the traffic situation ahead of the race. "Unlike Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock, there is more room to do that and not get in the marbles. We're looking to stay clean and bring the car home."
The seventh round of this year's ALMS championship rolls off Sunday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. local time. De Ferran enters nine points back of Highcroft in P1, the closest championship battle with Fernandez and Flying Lizard out to larger leads in P2 and GT2.