RECORD-BREAKING DAY AT ROAD ATLANTA All four classes set qualifying records Friday at Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6, highlighted by Stephane Sarrazin's run to the overall pole position for Saturday's 1,000-mile/10-hour ...
RECORD-BREAKING DAY AT ROAD ATLANTA
All four classes set qualifying records Friday at Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6, highlighted by Stephane Sarrazin's run to the overall pole position for Saturday's 1,000-mile/10-hour endurance classic at Road Atlanta. Sarrazin's time of 1:06.242 (138.039 mph) nipped Audi Sport North America's Allan McNish by 0.085 seconds as the battle between the two marques intensified even more.
Sarrazin, in his first race at Petit Le Mans since 2006 with Aston Martin Racing, is driving the diesel-powered Peugeot 908 HDi for the second time in the American Le Mans Series this season. He will team Saturday with Nic Minassian and Christian Klien.
"We are very happy," said Sarrazin, who also captured pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans the last two years for Peugeot. "It is very good for us and the team. We will focus now on a good start and a long race for tomorrow. It is a different target now than Sebring (in March). We were a newer car then and we did not finish. Then we advanced at Le Mans, so now we have even more time with the car."
The top 15 qualifiers were under Marco Werner's pole-winning time of 1:08.906 (132.703 mph) from 2006, and Sarrazin was 2.564 seconds off the old mark. Sarrazin's time Saturday also set an all-time Road Atlanta speed record. Davy Jones held the previous mark at 135.563 mph in a TWR Jaguar XJR-9 from 1992. The six fastest cars - both LMP1 and LMP2 entries - Friday were quicker than Jones' speed.
"We tested Saturday and Sunday before coming into this weekend," Sarrazin said. "We found we didn't have too much grip and over the week have really developed it a lot and found a lot of speed. It was no problem chasing Allan. I tried to push really hard. The grip was not so good which was totally different than this morning. It will be very difficult though with all the GT1 and GT2 and the up and downs in the track where you cannot see."
Werner qualified third in the R10 TDI that he will drive with Luhr at 1:06.818 (136.849 mph).
In LMP2, Penske Racing's Ryan Briscoe made a triumphant return to Road Atlanta with a class-record pole run of 1:07.061 (136.353 mph). Briscoe will share one of Penske's three Porsche RS Spyders with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
Briscoe broke the one-year P2 record of Penske teammate Romain Dumas by a blistering 1.978 seconds. Briscoe, a Porsche factory driver last year, was 0.087 seconds quicker than Dumas, who will drive with Timo Bernhard.
Briscoe moved to Penske's IndyCar program for 2008 but drove the car at Sebring and Belle Isle in late August in preparation for Road Atlanta.
"It's been fun getting back in the Porsche," he said. "It's clear we have really fast cars out there. Being away for a bit you can really see the advancements that keep Porsche moving forward."
Penske swept the top three qualifying spots in class as Sascha Maassen posted a lap of 1:07.401 (135.666 mph). He will drive with Patrick Long and Emmanuel Collard. It gives Porsche the advantage in a tight battle for the class manufacturer championship. Acura leads by just four points entering Road Atlanta with 55 points available over the final two races.
Franck Montagny was the quickest Acura driver for Andretti Green Racing with the fourth-fastest time in P2. But Briscoe is smart enough to realize that qualifying positions mean little over the course of a 1,000-mile race.
"You have to be conservative and look after your equipment, but strategy will play a big role as well," he said. "It cools off at night and you have to look after that. Working only with Helio, we're going to have to stay fresh and get our meals in to share the duties. We'll have to focus on the really close championship between Porsche and Acura."
Johnny O'Connell captured his second GT1 pole at Road Atlanta in three years with a record-breaking run of 1:16.542 (119.464 mph). The Corvette Racing driver from nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., beat out teammate Olivier Beretta by 0.047 seconds. O'Connell has three pole positions this season after entering 2008 with just two in the previous nine years.
O'Connell also was on pole for the 2006 race and the 2005 spring event at Road Atlanta.
"I love this racetrack," O'Connell beamed. "Certainly with Corvette Racing we do some testing here. Michelin is great and it is my relationship with Panoz that first brought me to the area in 1999. Anytime you can out qualify Olivier, you've done a good job. One of the objectives is to qualify well, and I've stepped up my game."
O'Connell and Jan Magnussen have won seven races this season entering Petit Le Mans. They lead the class championship by 23 points and have not trailed in the title chase after they won at Sebring with Ron Fellows. The trio are back together again, hoping to help O'Connell and Magnussen end Beretta and Oliver Gavin's run of three straight class championships.
"Looking back in our past three years, it wasn't our ability that kept us from winning a championship," O'Connell said. "It was just luck falling the wrong way."
Jaime Melo earned his second straight Road Atlanta pole and third this season in GT2 for Risi Competizione and Ferrari. The Brazilian pilot turned a lap of 1:19.399 (115.165 mph) in the Ferrari F430 GT that he will drive with Mika Salo. It was enough for a 0.057 advantage over Farnbacher Loles Racing's Dirk Werner and his Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
"We found very good balance for the race," Melo said. "We are happy with the lap time. Porsche was very close as well. We were quite ahead of everyone yesterday. It's a 10-hour race. Qualifying is important but we think about the total race."
After winning the class championship and eight races in 2007, it hardly has been a season to forget for the Risi duo. The highlight was a class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Gianmaria Bruni, and Melo and Salo also won for the first time in North America at Mosport in late August.
"We've been working really hard for this race," Melo said. "This is nice after a bad season. We have been preparing at Petit to make up for it."
Dirk Mueller qualified Tafel Racing's Ferrari third in class at 1:19.795 (114.594 mph). He will drive with Dominik Farnbacher.
Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6 is the 10th round of the 2008 American Le Mans Series. The 1,000-mile/10-hour race is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. ET Saturday, October 4 from Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. SPEED will televise the race live with online video available from 1 to 6:30 p.m. ET on americanlemans.com. XM Satellite Radio will air live race coverage throughout the day on XM Channel 166. Live coverage from American Le Mans Radio will be available at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.