Road Atlanta: Acura qualifying report

CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Young Acura driving star Simon Pagenaud made a charge at a top three qualifying position Friday at Road Atlanta against a stellar field of LMP1 driving talent in preparation for Saturday's prestigious Petit Le Mans ...

CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Young Acura driving star Simon Pagenaud made a charge at a top three qualifying position Friday at Road Atlanta against a stellar field of LMP1 driving talent in preparation for Saturday's prestigious Petit Le Mans sports-car classic.

The 25-year-old Frenchman, with three pole positions this year, took on factory drivers from Audi and Peugeot on the 2.54-mile road circuit in search of a front-row spot for the 1,000-mile endurance classic. Driving the No. 66 XM Satellite Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a gas-powered prototype, Pagenaud came within a tenth of a second of posting a top three grid spot against the four diesel-powered European cars.

On his last qualifying lap, Pagenaud had the pace to take third overall until the Lola of Jonny Cocker ran out of fuel right in front of the de Ferran driver. Simon was forced to avoid the British driver's car and missed a shot at besting the Audi machines.

Pagenaud set the fifth-best time of one minute, 8.348 seconds with an average speed of 133.786 miles per hour. Pagenaud will co-drive with Indy 500 winners Gil de Ferran and Scott Dixon in the No. 66 Acura when the green flag falls at 11:20 a.m. Saturday. The race will be televised live flag to flag on SPEED Channel.

Nicholas Minassian won the pole in a Peugeot with a speed of 136.606 m.p.h. followed by Franck Montagny in a Peugeot, Allan McNish in an Audi, Lucas Luhr in an Audi, and Pagenaud.

In the LMP2 division, current class point leader Adrian Fernandez posted the third-fastest speed in the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b sports car at 127.428 m.p.h.. Fernandez and partner Luis Diaz have won seven LMP2 class events in 2009 and seek to tie the ALMS record of eight set by Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas of Penske Racing in 2007. Marino Franchitti won the LMP2 pole Friday.

The Patron Highcroft Racing team, current LMP1 point leaders, did not attempt to qualify after Thursday's devastating practice crash of Scott Sharp that completely destroyed the No. 9 Patron Highcroft Acura ARX-02a car. The team received a replacement Acura tub Friday morning and began construction of the new machine from the ground up. The experienced Patron Highcroft crew plans to work around the clock to assemble the new Acura for drivers Sharp (who was uninjured), David Brabham and Dario Franchitti in time for Saturday's race.

SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a):

"The de Ferran team did a great job setting up the car for this track. We have been very consistent with the handling. I think we have a good car for the race. The humid weather conditions probably hurt us in some straight-line speed. I was happy with the car. On my final lap, I had a good one going that might have given us third, but I was blocked. Overall, we feel good about our chances in the race."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b):

"We really didn't have a chance at the pole today. The Mazda has the straight-line speed over our car. But I am confident that the Lowe's Acura will be strong in the race. We want to there at the end. "

DUNCAN DAYTON (team owner, #9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a):

"We are still on target to be ready to roll for the warm-up tomorrow morning. The guys have a big day on their hands but everybody remains in very good spirits. One of the most rewarding aspects about owning this team is our people. They are incredibly dedicated and everybody has their sights set on this championship. I'm very proud of their efforts and I know Scott, David and Dario are very grateful for their efforts."

-credit: acura

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Allan McNish , Franck Montagny , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Lucas Luhr , Luis Diaz , Timo Bernhard , Marino Franchitti , Romain Dumas , Simon Pagenaud , Jonny Cocker
Teams Team Penske