STREET DREAMS: WERNER PUTS AUDI ON ST. PETE POLE Marco Werner's affinity for street circuits shone again Friday. The Audi factory driver captured the overall pole position for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by...
STREET DREAMS: WERNER PUTS AUDI ON ST. PETE POLE
Marco Werner's affinity for street circuits shone again Friday. The Audi factory driver captured the overall pole position for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by XM Satellite Radio with a record run, besting Penske Racing's Romain Dumas as Audi looked to regain its winning ways in the American Le Mans Series.
Werner's best lap was a 1:02.825 (103.144 mph) around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit on the bayfront of St. Petersburg. His time also beat Dumas' overall pole-winning time from 2007 by 0.214 seconds in the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI he will share with Lucas Luhr.
And it could have been even better. Werner was on pace to improve his time on the next lap before running too hard into Turn 8 and spinning the car. The R10 did stop before impacting the tire barrier so there was no damage.
"I was pushing very hard on my last lap and was 0.2 seconds better than the qualifying lap," he said. "On a normal circuit you have trouble going into the grass or gravel. Here of course you don't have any of that."
Werner placed second overall here last year with Emanuele Pirro, just 0.426 seconds behind Allan McNish and Dindo Capello. Werner will make his seventh Series street circuit start and has finished either first or second in his previous six events including a victory last year on Belle Isle in Detroit.
Luhr hasn't been too shabby with six career street circuit victories, tied for the most in Series history.
"To be fast on a street circuit, you have to like it. And I do like street circuits," Werner said. "It's very smooth which is why a lot of people compare it to Monaco. From corner to corner, you have to push very hard and it is difficult. You have to use everything you have. I hit the wall two times in qualifying so I used everything. The car was great from the beginning."
LMP2 cars held the next seven positions, led by Dumas in Penske's No. 7 Porsche RS Spyder. His time of 1:03.578 (101.922 mph) was just 0.129 seconds better than David Brabham in the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b and another 0.03 seconds faster than Sascha Maassen in the second Penske Porsche.
Dumas and Timo Bernhard won the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Emmanuel Collard, a historic victory for Penske and Porsche. The duo won eight times in P2 with six overall wins in 2007.
"It will be a good race but again we're just fighting for the class victory," Dumas said. "But for sure I was pushing because I wanted to catch Marco. We have a nice field and a lot of cars. We had great balance last year and it's possible we could have been better this year. But we do have a little more weight and it was windy. You never know how that affects the car."
It was an eventful afternoon for Dumas. He collided with Nathan Swartzbaugh's VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR near the end of Friday afternoon's practice session. The impact destroyed the RS Spyder's rear suspension and broke the right rear wheel off the car. But even before Dumas' car returned to pit lane, the Penske crew had a new suspension waiting to be installed with the camber and settings already preset to expedite the process.
"It was very difficult. The car was not bad this morning and Timo was quick," Dumas said. "Then I crashed into a GT2 car. The crew work was incredible. Even Tim Cindric was in there helping the mechanics. I have full confidence in the team. They are the best in my mind."
Four more LMP2 cars were on the timing chart before getting to the No. 1 Audi R10 TDI of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela, who qualified the car at 1:04.577 (100.345 mph). He was 0.697 seconds ahead of Jon Field in the Intersport Racing cellulosic E85-powered Lola-AER he will share with son Clint and Richard Berry.
Olivier Beretta led Corvette Racing's 1-2 effort in GT1 with his 21st career pole position, a lap of 1:09.727 (92.934 mph) to best teammate Johnny O'Connell by 0.541 seconds. Beretta also was the class pole-sitter at St. Petersburg in 2007 and extend his lead in career Series fast qualifiers.
The five-time Series champion - also a record - teamed with Oliver Gavin in last year's class victory. The two will go for a St. Pete repeat as well as their first victory of the season. Like the rest of the paddock, Beretta sang the praises of the St. Petersburg circuit.
"I feel a little at home being born in Monaco," Beretta said. "I've always liked street races and it's good for the fans. The only trouble is if you have a problem or spin off. Then you have to worry about destroying the car. You like places where you have a good race and the car is good."
O'Connell's best lap was a 1:10.268 (92.218 mph) in the Corvette he will share with Jan Magnussen, the pairing having won the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring three weeks ago. Terry Borcheller was third in class in Bell Motorsports' Aston Martin DBR9.
This is Corvette Racing's first race on cellulosic E85 and hence the first Series pole position for the fuel. All cars in the Series are running on alternative fuels - clean diesel, cellulosic E85 and E10.
"For us, it's the first time we've used E85 in the race car," Beretta said. "I am quite surprised by the performance. It's at least as good as last year. The most important thing is that the performance is the same and it helps the environment. It may not be the right answer but it is a start."
Wolf Henzler captured his first career pole position with a record run in Flying Lizard Motorsports' No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The German factory driver turned a lap of 1:11.745 (90.320 mph) as Porsche captured its first pole in GT2 since Jorg Bergmeister's fast qualifying run at Road America in 2006. Henzler bested Tomas Enge's qualifying mark from last year by 0.280 seconds
Coincidentally, Henzler will team with Bergmeister this weekend. They teamed to win in class at Sebring with Marc Lieb, a three-lap victory that was a 1-2 finish for Flying Lizard.
"This has been the perfect start for the season," Henzler said. "The car must be very, very good. Otherwise I wouldn't be here. It's the first time for me on pole position. I've been close a couple of times and can't believe it. The team gave me a really good car for qualifying."
Henzler's lap was 0.118 seconds better than Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo in the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT. The two teams went down to the wire for the class championship in 2007 with Risi eventually winning out. But a win by Flying Lizard and an early retirement for Melo and Mika Salo has put the Porsche team in the early drivers seat for 2008.
Third in class was Dirk Werner in Farnbacher Loles Racing's Porsche, an entry he will share with Marc Basseng. Werner's turned the clock at 1:12.581 (89.280 mph).
The battle between Porsche and Ferrari has been a major storyline in the early part of the season. Ferrari won its first manufacturer championship last year, taking nine victories to just three for Porsche. That meant a lot of work for Porsche designers and engineers over the winter.
"Porsche improved the car and did some things to the car, especially with the downforce and gearbox," Henzler said. "They definitely are better than last year. This morning the Ferrari looked very good but we came back this afternoon and had a better car this time."
The Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by XM Satellite Radio is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 5 from the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be broadcast on ABC from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET on April 5. American Le Mans Radio coverage will be available on XM Satellite Radio Channel 144 from 5 to 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 6. Live American Le Mans Radio coverage will be available at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.