St. Pete: Petersen/WLR preview

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Looks to Get Back on Track on St. Pete Streets St. Petersburg, Fla., March 26, 2007 -- Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing debuted their new Ferrari F430 GT at the American Le Mans Series ...

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Looks to Get Back on Track on St. Pete Streets

St. Petersburg, Fla., March 26, 2007 -- Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing debuted their new Ferrari F430 GT at the American Le Mans Series season-opener on March 17th. A strong qualifying run at the 12 Hours of Sebring for the No. 31 MMPIE/PAWS/Petersen Holdings/Michelin Ferrari F430 GT peaked expectations. However, Sebring's early jubilation quickly turned sour and a hard-fought eighth-place finish only stoked the desires of the Michael Petersen (Las Vegas) owned team. The 2005 and 2006 Series GT2 Driver and IMSA Cup Champions now look to the first street race of the season, the Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg, to put their championship defense back on track with drivers Tim Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) and Tomas Enge (a native of the Czech Republic living in Monaco). The mixture of the narrow streets and well- balanced Ferrari F430 GT platform suggest that the team, which has earned eight victories in the last two seasons, will return to the top of the pack on Saturday.

Sebring looked to be offering a 2005-like start to the season for the Dale White (Bozeman, MT) team. That year, the team opened with the Sebring class title and finished with four consecutive wins to take the GT2 Driver, Team and IMSA Cup championships. However, all that changed by the second turn when the third- place starter made an aggressive move he could not complete, cutting across the nose of Enge who was leading from the class pole position. The contact left the No. 31 with a damaged nose, front splitter and undertray. The resulting repairs dropped them 30 laps behind the class leader and they would eventually finish eighth. The car would run flawlessly from then on, only suffering from the results of the first lap contact giving credence to the belief that the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winners would have been in the thick of the battle for the victory at the end of the 12 Hours.

Now, the wide-open Sebring track is being followed by the first of three consecutive street courses, a total of four temporary tracks will be a part of the American Le Mans Series' ninth season. The 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary course in the streets of downtown St. Pete, round two of the 12 race championship, promises an even closer battle than the remarkable class finish at Sebring. With its Italian-built, V8 mounted mid-ship rather than in the rear like with the Porsche or the front as on the Panoz, the Ferrari F430 GT seems ideally suited for the twisting, tight confines of the streets. When coupled with the strength of two of the quickest and most aggressive drivers in the GT2 field, Bergmeister and Enge, the first two hour and 45- minute "sprint" race of the season provides an ideal platform to regain the momentum that saw the team rush from behind to capture the driver and privateer titles in 2006.

Unlike many of the teams, which are seeing the Florida street course for the first time, Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Enge. The multi-talented driver competed on the circuit in 2005 driving an IndyCar Series Dallara. Enge, who joined the No. 31 driver lineup for the first time this year, led for four laps before an accident eliminated him from the running in the open-wheel race. The time between the St. Pete walls will prove a great asset for Enge and the team as he communicates his experiences to co-driver Bergmeister, engineer Frank Funke (Wetter, Germany) and crew chief Dennis Chizma (Las Vegas, Nev.).

One area that the White Lightning crew was not able to overcome from Sebring involves the sister car to the Petersen Motorsports-entry, the No. 32 Corsa Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Ferrari F430 GT. The No. 32 Ferrari, scheduled to be driven by Rui Aguas (Porto, Portugal) and Maurizio Mediani (Reggio Emilia, Italy), will not compete in this weekend's event at St. Petersburg. The Steve Pruitt (Sandy, Utah) owned Ferrari is currently undergoing repairs that resulted from a fire during the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Quotes:

Mike Petersen, Owner: "Sebring was a tough one and it did not show our true potential at all. We are all looking forward to St. Pete as we have some ground to make up. The Ferrari is a great car. Now, if we can just keep some of our competitors from trying to win the race in the second turn we will be fine. We will push like we always do. I know the guys are more than ready as it should be a good track for the Ferrari and for the Petersen Motorsports team!"

Dale White, Entrant/Team Manager: "The street courses are always difficult because you have so little track time and so much to learn. We think that helps us as we have always been able to get up to speed on new tracks quickly. We need to get back on track this weekend; back to where we expect this team to be in the championship. The competition is tough, better than ever before, but that just makes you raise your game. We see this weekend as a challenge, our first chance this year to show that we will get back up when we're knocked down."

Tim Bergmeister, Driver: "My last race on a street course was in 2005 in Monaco driving in Porsche Supercup. I really like this kind of track because they don't allow any mistakes from the driver. I am sure the Ferrari will be very competitive there because of the perfect handling it has. I can't wait to go out there and try to beat the Porsches and the other Ferraris."

Tomas Enge, Driver: "We are all heading to St. Pete with just one aim; to overcome the disappointment from Sebring and improve our position in the fight for the championship. I raced in St. Pete with the IRL and I like the track. It is quite interesting. Like with all street courses you cannot afford mistakes because the walls are very close and they punish you very hard. It is going to be my first street race with the Ferrari F430 but I have experience with GTs like the Ferrari 550 Maranello and Aston Martin, so it is not going to be a problem."

The SportsCar Challenge of St. Petersburg will take the green flag at 5:05 PM, Saturday, March 31.

-credit: pm/wlr

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Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , Michael Petersen , Maurizio Mediani , Tim Bergmeister , Rui Aguas , Steve Pruitt