Sebring: Series qualifying report

SEBRING SHOCKER: DIXON CLAIMS POLE FOR ACURA Scott Dixon shocked Sebring International Raceway on Thursday with the overall pole position for the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, upsetting factory diesel...

SEBRING SHOCKER: DIXON CLAIMS POLE FOR ACURA

Scott Dixon shocked Sebring International Raceway on Thursday with the overall pole position for the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, upsetting factory diesel powers Audi and Peugeot in the first round of qualifying for the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

With much of the attention on the factory diesel powers, the reigning IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion turned a fast lap 1:45.278 (126.522 mph) in de Ferran Motorsports' new Acura ARX-02a. Not bad for someone who is making his Sebring debut.

"I've watched this race for many years and it's always been exciting so now it's great that I get to race here," Dixon said. "I've tested on the short track many times with IndyCar but never on the big track. So you can't help but grin from ear to ear to be excited to drive here."

It was the first American Le Mans Series pole for Dixon, who beat out four- time Sebring winner and Audi ace Tom Kristensen by just 0.082 seconds. Dixon will drive with team owner Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud in the first Sebring race for all three.

The diesel Audis and Peugeots had been the quickest in every session this week. But on a track that is notorious for changing by the minute, Dixon found his comfort level.

"Overall it's been a great week especially now having Acura on the overall pole," Dixon said. "It was unexpected. We always shoot for the pole from the get-go. But realistically I thought we were only to be third or fourth. It was interesting when I heard I was going to qualify the car. I'm not sure why Gil picked me in the end, but I think all three of us could have done it."

Kristensen is part of an Audi lineup that is debuting a brand new diesel- powered R15 TDI. He is driving one of the factory entries with Dindo Capello and Allan McNish.

The top five qualifiers were within 0.281 seconds of each other around the bruising 17-turn, 3.7-mile circuit. Peugeot's Christian Klien was third- fastest in one of the two French 908 HDi coupes at 1:45.462 (126.301 mph). The Austrian F1 regular is teaming with Nic Minassian and Pedro Lamy.

In LMP2, Adrian Fernandez in the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b gave Acura a second pole position in the Series' first race for the first time. The Mexican star earned his first American Le Mans Series pole position with a lap of 1:49.686 (121.438 mph) to outpace Dyson Racing's two new Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes.

Fernandez will drive the 12 Hours with countryman Luis Diaz for the third consecutive season. The pairing had finished third overall in last year's race before the Acura was excluded in post-race technical inspections, the first of many hard-luck issues for the team.

"It feels good to start the season well," Fernandez said. "Last year was frustrating that we didn't ever get a win we deserved. It was always some little stupid things that prevented us. So it's great to focus on finishing the race. We know the car, we know the track, and we have the most experience in the car."

Chris Dyson was Dyson Racing's quickest qualifier at 1:51.534 (119.425 mph) in the Lola he will share with Guy Smith and Andy Lally. Butch Leitzinger was 0.306 seconds back in the sister entry that he will drive with Marino Franchitti and Ben Devlin.

"Dyson is a very experienced team," Fernandez said. "We raced with them a lot last year but they seemed to finish better than us. Acura has done a good job with supporting us again. We know more about the car this year and more experience sometimes means more speed."

Oliver Gavin captured his 18th career Series pole position and third at Sebring in Corvette Racing's final 12 Hours race with the GT1 class Corvette C6.R. Gavin's best lap of 1:57.882 (112.994 mph) beat Jan Magnussen in the second Corvette by 0.321 seconds.

Gavin and Olivier Beretta are looking for their third Sebring victory together and first with new teammate Marcel Fassler.

"It was nice to come away with a pole on the 10th anniversary of Corvette Racing," Gavin said. "And anytime you can beat Jan in qualifying you know you earned your money. The cars feel like they have lost a lot of grip this year; that seems to be the biggest change for the track this year. If you get off track and make any mistakes then you're ruined for the next three or four corners."

Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell are the defending race winners, and their victory at Sebring last season was the first of eight on the season and sent them to the GT1 championship. They are driving this year with Antonio Garcia as Corvette Racing prepares for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"It's great to race the Corvettes and prepare for Le Mans," Gavin said. "It's important to prep here. Both cars are very mindful that Le Mans is the goal. But I think both of us want to go away with the 10th anniversary victory for Corvette."

Dirk Werner put Farnbacher Loles Racing and Porsche on the GT2 pole in another tight battle. The German's lap of 2:03.051 (108.248 mph) in the team's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was enough to knock off Jorg Bergmeister in the first of Flying Lizard Motorsports' two Porsches by 0.382 seconds.

"While driving I didn't feel the time would have been good for pole," Werner said. "The track changed a lot from this morning. It was very greasy. The team made fun of me and asked me why I was going so slow. But when I came in I realized that I was first and it was OK. It shows the abilities of the team. We've been fortunate to come back and it shows we are worth the works support."

Werner will team with defending class co-champion race winner Wolf Henzler - part of the Flying Lizard lineup in 2008 - and Richard Lietz. The German gave Porsche its first fast qualifier in GT2 since 2004.

Bergmeister, Henzler's teammate last season, is driving with Patrick Long and Marc Lieb.

Ferrari was third on the grid thanks to Gianmaria Bruni's lap of 2:03.487 (107.866 mph) in the Advanced Engineering Pecom Racing Ferrari F430 GT that he will drive with Mathias Russo and Luis Companc.

The 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida will open the 11th season of the American Le Mans Series and serve as the 100th all-time Series race. SPEED will televise the race live from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-11 p.m. ET. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Gianmaria Bruni , Tom Kristensen , Allan McNish , Guy Smith , Butch Leitzinger , Gil de Ferran , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Dixon , Johnny O'Connell , Pedro Lamy , Ben Devlin , Marcel Fassler , Luis Diaz , Andy Lally , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Patrick Long , Marc Lieb , Olivier Beretta , Christian Klien , Wolf Henzler , Simon Pagenaud , Dirk Werner , Luis Perez-Companc , Richard Lietz , Chris Dyson
Teams Corvette Racing , Pecom Racing , Dyson Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports