Monza: Series qualifying report

Qualifying records fall as Peugeot locks out front row Two days of bright sunshine and warm weather has greeted the contenders for the 2008 Monza 1000kms in Italy and already the competition on the track has proven to be hotter than ...

Qualifying records fall as Peugeot locks out front row

Two days of bright sunshine and warm weather has greeted the contenders for the 2008 Monza 1000kms in Italy and already the competition on the track has proven to be hotter than ever.

Already there has been drama in qualifying as two cars have been put to the back of the grid for having excessive cockpit temperatures. The rule is designed to protect the driver from overheating while driving and affects the second Corvette C6R, qualified by Sebastien Dumez, and the Spyker C8 Laviolette of Ralf Kelleners.

Jamie Campbell-Walter has been ruled out of the race following a crash in qualifying and his co-driver, Stuart Hall, has switched to the Creation AIM's second entry with Robbie Kerr and Bruce Jouanny. The WR Salini has been put to the back of the grid having failed to set a qualifying time.

In each class the qualifying times from 2007 have been beaten by more than a second, and in the fiercely contested "LM" P1 category Nicolas Minassian is a full three seconds faster than he achieved in the Peugeot 908 Hdi FAP in 2007.

Jos Verstappen leads the "LM" P2 class while Olivier Beretta heads "LM" GT1 for Corvette and Rob Bell the "LM" GT2 class for Ferrari.

Nicolas Minassian set the "LM" P1 pole position, the Peugeot driver beating his own pole position time from 2007 by three seconds. His best time of 1m31.470s, set late in the session, was 0.4s faster than Pedro Lamy, and was 1.723s faster than Dindo Capello's Audi R10 TDI.

It was a dominant performance from the French team which has taken big steps forward since it made its international race debut at this 5.793km circuit last year. In 2008, it faces its biggest challenge from the factory Audi team, and at the moment seems to have the measure of the competition. "When the difference is so big, it is difficult to say that it is one area," said Capello. "We have to catch up."

For a long time, the two Courage ORECA Judds headed the time sheets with Olivier Panis and Soheil Ayari before they were split by the Creation AIM of Jamie Campbell-Walter. The British driver was on another flying lap when he went crashed heavily at the second chicane, putting to an end his hopes of challenging his petrol competitors.

"We took over Courage six months ago and made the improvements that put the car where it is today," said ORECA team director Hugues de Chaunac. "Each practice session, the two cars are in a similar position, so we have done a good job, but that work needs to continue."

It wasn't until late in the session that the Peugeot 908 Hdi FAPs went out on track, after Capello set provisional fastest time in his Audi R10 TDI. He was followed by Mike Rockenfeller before the Peugeots pitted for new tyres and exited the pits together, running in close formation, Minassian leading Lamy. It was the Frenchman who set the better time. "It was a good job done," said Minassian. "Peugeot knows what they are doing, has done a good job and now we are looking for pace."

The Charouz Racing Systems Aston Martin-powered Lola was fifth fastest in the hands of Stefan Mucke, ahead of Panis, Campbell-Walter and Ayari. The best Pescarolo set ninth fastest time in the hands of Emmanuel Collard, who was not happy with the handling of the car while tenth in class was the Epsilon Euskadi of Angel Burgueno. Robbie Kerr qualified the second Creation AIM 12th overall.

Verstappen heads Porsche 1-2-3

Jos Verstappen continued the form he showed at Barcelona when he set the "LM" P2 class pole at Monza in his van Merksteijn Porsche. Verstappen set a best time of 1m36.842s, more than a secnd faster than Jan Lammers in the Horag Racing Porsche. On a great day for the German manufacturer, Casper Elgaard was third fastest in the Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder as Andrea Belicchi struggled with a lack of straight line speed in his Speedy Racing Judd-powered Lola.

Verstappen's time was 2.5s faster than Angel Burgueno achieved here last year. "Our car likes the shorter tracks," said the former Grand Prix driver. "I can make time in braking so I worked on that this morning. I had a good lap, no mistakes."

Lammers made it a Dutch 1-2, but Elgaard was disappointed not to be able to challenge after having his best laps thwarted by yellow flags and traffic. "My last lap could have been faster, but I had to go to the pits because I was running out of fuel," said the Dane.

Belicchi reckoned that the Lola Coupe lacked straight line speed compared to his competitors in the class, but believed that a mid 1m38.5s lap would have been possible, cause for optimism for the race. Michael Vergers was fourth fastest in the Barazi Epsilon Zytek, ahead of Tommy Erdos in the RML.

Beretta stays on top in Corvette

Olivier Beretta, a man who knows the Corvette C6R so well having won the American Le Mans Series driving for the factory team, went to the top of the time sheets by setting pole position for the "LM" GT1 category.

Deputising for the team owner, Luc Alphand, Beretta set a time of 1m44.102s, just two tenths of a second faster than Tomas Enge managed in the Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 and 1.3s quicker than Stephane Ortelli managed in the Saleen S7R in 2007.

"It is nice to be back in Europe," said Beretta who took advantage of the cancellation of the American Le Mans Series race in Houston to race at Monza.

Sebastien Dumez was third fastest in the second Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6R that he will share with Patrice Manopoulos and Jean-Luc Blanchemain.

The latter driver had a small accident in the Corvette during the third practice session on Saturday morning which slowed the progress of the team. The car was later hit with a penalty of being dropped to the back of the grid for an overheating cockpit.

Peter Kox was fourth in the Lamborghini, bringing up the tail of the field following the withdrawal of the Larbre Competition Saleen S7R as the former champion team works on a race programme in France and Europe.

Advantage Ferrari in Monza

Ferrari returned to the top of the time sheets with Rob Bell setting the "LM" GT2 pole position time in the Ferrari 430 GT. The British driver admitted that it was not the cleanest of laps, suggesting that he could have gone faster still, yet his time was two tenths faster than that of Alex Davison in the Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche.

Davison commented; "We are closer to the Ferraris, the circuit seems to suit us much better and the Porsche is going well." Each of the Ferraris have switched to Dunlop, and Pierre Kaffer took advantage to set third fastest time in the Farnbacher Racing Ferrari that he will share with Pierre Ehret. Ehret had an accident in practice, which meant that the team was forced to work deep into the qualifying session repairing the front of the car.

Richard Lietz, on pole position last year, was fourth fastest, while Stephane Daoudi set fifth fastest time in the car that he will share with Ben Aucott. Markus Palttala was an unhappy seventh in class in the James Watt Automotive Porsche, while Ralf Kelleners was ninth in the Spyker C8 Laviolette before he was put to the back of the grid. "Barcelona was the first roll out of the car and we had no real issues with the car," said the German. "We are lacking speed but we are closer than we were at Barcelona."

-credit: lemans

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Jan Lammers , Jos Verstappen , Olivier Panis , Bruce Jouanny , Tomas Enge , Ralf Kelleners , Nicolas Minassian , Emmanuel Collard , Pedro Lamy , Michael Vergers , Stéphane Ortelli , Rob Bell , Peter Kox , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Robbie Kerr , Luc Alphand , Soheil Ayari , Olivier Beretta , Sebastien Dumez , Pierre Kaffer , Jean-Luc Blanchemain , Casper Elgaard , Stuart Hall , Stefan Mücke , Markus Palttala , Angel Burgueño , Richard Lietz , Ben Aucott , Andrea Belicchi , Dindo Capello , Hugues de Chaunac
Teams Larbre Competition , Team Felbermayr