St. Pete: Acura qualifying report

FRANCE'S SIMON PAGENAUD FLASHES TO ST. PETE POLE Luis Diaz Scores First ALMS Pole in LMP2 with Lowe's Fernandez Acura ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was only fitting Friday during Acura Sports Car Challenge qualifying...

Luis Diaz Scores First ALMS Pole in LMP2 with Lowe's Fernandez Acura

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was only fitting Friday during Acura Sports Car Challenge qualifying that the Acura sports cars placed 1-2-3 for Saturday's American Le Mans Series feature.

Young French star Simon Pagenaud led the Acura assault with his first ALMS pole run in the new No. 66 de Ferran XM Radio Acura ARX-02a prototype machine on the tight 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course near the picturesque St. Petersburg harbor. Pagenaud, 24, came close to capturing pole positions on four occasions last year in his ALMS debut season but came up short. Team owner Gil de Ferran won the overall pole at Mid-Ohio in 2008 and IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon drove to the overall pole two weeks ago at Sebring in the car's debut.

Pagenaud recorded a time of one minute, 3.776 seconds and an average speed of 101.606 miles per hour , off the track record of 1:02.825 and 103.144 set last year. Morning thunderstorms dampened ALMS practice time on Friday. Pagenaud will team up with de Ferran for Saturday's race.

Scott Sharp, who has competed in both ALMS and IndyCar Series events at St. Petersburg, took the No. 9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a to the second qualifying position Friday in an exciting duel with Pagenaud during the early portion of the 20-minute qualifying session. Sharp's time was 1:04.722 and 100.121 m.p.h. Sharp and veteran David Brabham, four-time race winners in LMP2 last year, seek their second ALMS overall win.

In the LMP2 class, Luis Diaz drove the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b to his initial ALMS pole with a 1:05.178 clocking and a speed of 99.420 m.p.h. Diaz' LMP2 pole speed was good enough to place him third overall.

Diaz and team owner Adrian Fernandez look for their second 2009 victory after an impressive win two weeks ago in the grueling 12 Hours of Sebring, where the Mexican stars finished fourth overall.

All three Acuras are considered strong contenders for the overall title in Saturday's one hour, 55-minute contest, televised nationally on ABC-TV at 1:30 p.m. [EDT].

The all-new Acura LMP1 cars, with 4-liter, normally aspirated V-8 engines, feature a revolutionary chassis design from Honda Performance Development [HPD] and Wirth Research that feature the same Michelin tires on the front and rear wheels for more traction.


SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "It is quite exciting to win the pole here. I had never driven the circuit until today. So, it is a great feeling. This Acura is such a sophisticated car and it handles so well. It is very fun to drive. We learned a lot about the car at Sebring. Since Sebring's track is so bumpy, it is similar to a street circuit. So, when we came out today, we had a little of knowledge how the car would work. We softened up the suspension and the car was very good. I am very happy to win my first ALMS pole after being so close last year. Now, de Ferran Motorsports and Acura have taken the first two poles of the year. I know I want to get to Victory Lane now with this car. That would be a thrill to take Acura's first LMP1 victory."

SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "I think we are in really good shape for tomorrow because the car is very consistent. All the times I ran in qualifying were very strong and close to our fastest lap, but I couldn't stretch it any further. We made a few changes prior to qualifying and I think we learned a great deal. We need to gain a bit of speed compared to the No. 66 car, but overall, I think we had a good session. We have been working all day with the race set-up in mind to make sure the car remains consistent."

LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "I think this Lowe's Acura is a second quicker than last year's car here. And we have more weight and less power due to the new LMP2 rules. So, the aerodynamic package and suspension is better than last year. It will be a hard fight in the race with the Dyson Mazdas. It is a sprint race and we must drive flat-out the entire distance. Adrian and I are ready for the fight on Saturday. It won't easy on the tight circuit."

-credit: acura

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Dixon , Luis Diaz , Simon Pagenaud