JJ Lehto Wins Overall Sebring Pole, Three Class Fast Qualifiers Lost Poles in Tech BRASELTON, GA. - JJ Lehto found enough clear track to set a fast lap and win the overall pole Thursday for Saturday's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the opening...
JJ Lehto Wins Overall Sebring Pole, Three Class Fast Qualifiers Lost Poles in Tech
BRASELTON, GA. - JJ Lehto found enough clear track to set a fast lap and win the overall pole Thursday for Saturday's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the opening race of the 2004 American Le Mans Series season. Meanwhile, the apparent pole winners in the other three classes of competition lost their poles due to technical violations that were discovered in post-qualifying scrutineering.
Qualifying records were shattered in both the GTS and GT classes as the 44-car starting field was set for America's oldest and most prestigious sports car race.
Lehto driving the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 that he will share with Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner, turned a fast lap of 1:48.710 on the 3.7-mile track. His time just nipped the 1:48.821 posted by Allan McNish in the Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx entry that he will share with Frank Biela and Pierre Kaffer. James Weaver qualified third overall and in the LMP1 class in the Dyson Racing Lola-MG that he will share with Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace.
Lehto won the pole and the race in 1999 in his first Sebring start, and his team led 10 of the 12 hours in last year's race before being beaten for the victory. He took a good-natured jab at McNish in the post-qualifying press conference.
"Allan held me up on one lap while I was qualifying, so that made me really want to beat him," he said. "When these Formula One guys come back here, we just have to give them a little lesson."
McNish, the 2000 champion of the ALMS, spent the last three seasons in Formula One but is returning to sports cars this year. He nearly beat Lehto for the pole, falling just short on his last flying lap.
"I was on pole from the start until seven minutes to the checkered flag," said McNish. "I went quicker on my very last lap but it wasn't quite good enough. Our car was set up more with the race in mind than out-and-out qualifying, which bodes well for a successful race."
"It's nice to be on the pole and you can win a 12-hour race from the pole because I've done it," Lehto said. "The team has worked really hard on the set-ups and I'm happy with it. I really like my new teammate (Werner) and I think we're going to have a good season."
Marino Franchitti, driving the Rand Racing Lola B2K/40-Nissan, inherited the LMP2 class pole after the time posted by apparent pole winner Jeff Bucknum was disallowed. Bucknum's Team Bucknum Racing Pilbeam MP91 failed the stall test that was administered by IMSA officials, meaning that the engine was drawing air from an unapproved source. Franchitti, winning his first ALMS pole, turned a lap of 2:01.171 in the car he will share with Derek Hill and Andy Lally.
The Intersport Lola-Judd of Clint Field, Bill Binnie and Rick Sutherland qualified second at 2:01.841.
Records fell in the production-based GTS and GT classes, with Ron Fellows gaining sole possession of the ALMS record for the most poles in any class by inheriting the GTS class pole. The driver for Corvette Racing won the 14th ALMS pole of his career when the time posted by apparent pole winner Oliver Gavin was disallowed due to the rear wing endplates on his Corvette being out of compliance.
"It's great to finally get the record all to myself," said Fellows, who had not won a pole since August of 2002 at Trois-Rivieres and had been tied for the series record with Dirk Muller for nearly two years. "I feel bad for the guys on the other Corvette, but you take them any way you can get them."
Fellows' time of 1:57.052 shattered the previous track qualifying record of 1:59.024 that was set in 2003 by Gavin. . Fellows will drive with Johnny O'Connell and Max Papis. The Carsport America Dodge Viper GTS-R of Jean-Philippe Belloc, Tom Weickardt and Kevin Allen, which had apparently qualified third in class, also had its time disallowed due to running with improper engine restrictors..
Young German driver Mike Rockenfeller had apparently given the new BAM! Porsche team the GT class pole in its first-ever racing appearance. However, the time was disallowed due to the front splitter on the car extending too far. Inheriting the pole was the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Alex Job Racing driven by Timo Bernhard, Jorg Bergmeister and Sascha Maassen with a new class record of 2:04.804. Bernhard was in the car for qualifying and won the second pole of his ALMS career.
The other Job car of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Lucas Luhr, which had apparently qualified third, also had its time disallowed because the front spoiler was too low.
Saturday's race starts at 10:30 a.m. and will be televised live from flag to flag by the SPEED Channel in North America and MotorsTV in Europe. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.