St. Pete: Petersen/WLR qualifying report

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Turns Fastest Time in St. Pete GT2 Qualifying Enge's Quick Time Wins Team First Pole Position with Ferrari F430 GT ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 30, 2007 -- Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing...

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Turns Fastest Time in St. Pete GT2 Qualifying

Enge's Quick Time Wins Team First Pole Position with Ferrari F430 GT

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 30, 2007 -- Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing set the fastest time in today's GT2 qualifying for the Sports Car Challenge at St. Petersburg. It is the team's first official pole position of the 2007 American Le Mans Series season and its first in the Ferrari F430 GT. Tomas Enge (a native of the Czech Republic living in Monaco) turned the quickest time of the day in qualifying, lapping the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary course on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg in one minute, 12.025 seconds. It was the fourth career pole position for the No. 31 MMPIE/PAWS/Petersen Holdings/Michelin entry but its first on a street course. The fast lap was the sixth of Enge's career, his first in GT2 class with all others coming in the GT1 class). Tim Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany), who is making his debut here at St. Petersburg, will start the car in tomorrow's two hour and 45-minute. Enge will return to the car and finish the event.

The Michael Petersen-owned team will start from the pole position for the second time in as many races of the season. At the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring (March 17), the Dale White-managed team started from the pole position but did not set the fastest time in qualifying. The bump to position-one came after the fastest qualifier was forced to change tires and start at the back of the field.

Despite intense competition, it came as little surprise to onlookers that the No. 31 Ferrari was fastest in qualifying. The Dennis Chizma-led team had led the two, one-hour sessions that proceeded qualifying. Though a quick scan of the time lists might suggest that the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winning team has dominated events here, the truth is quite different. As has been the case for the last several seasons, the competition within the class has been intense. In the first session Enge, who raced here in 2005 in the IndyCar Series, was only 4/10s of a second quicker than the No. 61 Ferrari F430 GT and 5/10th quicker than the quickest running Porsche in third. In the second sessions, which immediately proceeded qualifying, Enge again ran in the 1:14 range and, again, narrowly held top spot over the No. 61. The times narrowed even more in qualifying with Enge edging the No. 61 by 2/10ths of a second.

The time differentials only go to show the importance of qualifying on a narrow street course like St. Petersburg. High temperatures, a track utilizing part city streets and part airport combined with multi-class racing will make concentration the prime consideration of the drivers. Both Bergmeister and Enge will need to stay entirely focused on keeping their GT2 competitors at bay while watching for the three faster divisions (LMP1, LMP2 and GT1) so as not to impede the progress of the quicker classes. With the prime passing location in turn-one, at the end of the long, pit straight, the more evenly-matched GT2 cars will attempt out-braking maneuvers into the wide turn. The quicker classes will attempt to make room wherever they can on the course. With little room for error, which has already been shown here this weekend several times, knowing what is around you is key. Fast pit stops by the award-winning crew will also be a major part of the strategy as every advantage will be needed to maintain the lead from the green to the checkered flag.

Quotes Dale White, Team Manager/Entrant: "Qualifying on the pole is always nice. The team has been working almost non-stop since February, when we took delivery of the Ferrari, and this is a good reward for the effort. A win would be a better reward but, after the struggles just to survive Sebring, this is a great pat on the back for a lot of effort. We just need to stay focused and try to keep mistakes, on and off the track, to a minimum. If we can do that, we have a shot at winning this race and getting back into the championship chase."

Tim Bergmeister, Starting Driver: "It is an advantage to be on the pole position but you have got to do all the laps to finish. It is not as easy as it is on a normal track but I think we will be alright. I like the track. For me it is fine, especially with the Ferrari. The car is very good so I think we will have every chance tomorrow." (About the Start): "For sure you have to try and get a gap and also look in the mirrors for the prototypes. You have to drive looking both forward and backward. For us, I think the main-straight will be the place to overtake. For the LMPs , they try and overtake everywhere so you have to be aware all the time."

Tomas Enge, Qualifying Driver: "It was a good run. The car was good and everything went according to the plan. We were fastest in all the sessions which makes it all that much more special after a disappointing Sebring. Now, we will just try and do our best to get a similar result tomorrow in the race. We need to start the closing of the gap on the leaders in the championship." (About the Race Strategy): "The strategy is simple. You have to go as fast as possible, you have to stay out of trouble, especially out of walls. Overtaking will be crucial here. The LMP cars are nine seconds [a lap] faster which is quite a lot on such a short track. I don't think we need to rush too much at the beginning of the race and we just want to get the car to the finish as high as possible. You have to be patient and careful."

-credit: pm/wlr

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Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , Michael Petersen , Tim Bergmeister