Laguna Seca: Saturday qualifying report

Negri Scores First Career Rolex Series Pole Position in Road & Track 250 Qualifying MONTEREY, Calif. (April 30, 2005) -- Despite the fact that he hadn't driven a Daytona Prototype in six months, Brazilian Oswaldo Negri Jr. didn't show any signs...

Negri Scores First Career Rolex Series Pole Position in Road & Track 250 Qualifying

MONTEREY, Calif. (April 30, 2005) -- Despite the fact that he hadn't driven a Daytona Prototype in six months, Brazilian Oswaldo Negri Jr. didn't show any signs of rust in qualifying for Sunday's Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as he claimed his first career Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series pole position.

As time expired in the 15-minute qualifying session, Negri ran a best lap at 1:24.357 (95.508 mph) in Michael Shank Racing's No. 60 MatlinPatterson Lexus Riley to take the pole for the inaugural Rolex Series race on the 2.238-mile circuit. The run capped a dramatic turn of events in the final minutes of qualifying, as Negri ran the fastest lap inside the final five minutes only to see Luis Diaz briefly take the spot away on his final lap in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley before Negri's last-lap flyer. Negri will share the No. 60 machine with newcomer Mark Patterson in Sunday's race.

"I have to say thank you first off to Lexus and to Mike Shank and his guys for working as hard as they do to prepare a car that was capable of taking the pole today," said Negri. "I knew right when we got on track here this weekend that we had a great combination and being second quick in practice yesterday was another confidence boost for me and the team. To be out of the car for so many months and take the pole the first time back is really just fantastic for me and shows what I have been saying about how absolutely incredible this Michael Shank Racing team is. This is also my engineer Dave Kanning's first time being the lead engineer on a Daytona Prototype, and he obviously did a fantastic job. I am just so thankful for the opportunity that Mark Patterson and the team have created for me this weekend, and I am really looking forward to the race."

Negri will be joined on the front row by Jorg Bergmeister, who turned a best lap of 1:24.466 (95.385 mph) in the No. 66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley. It was the German's career-best qualifying performance, and comes on the heels of a third-place qualifying performance four weeks ago at California Speedway. Bergmeister and co-driver Max Papis--the 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion--enter the Road & Track 250 looking to build upon a third-place finish in their last race together at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February.

"It was definitely much better than yesterday," said Bergmeister, who had an abbreviated session due to a problem on Friday. "It was kind of a gamble today for qualifying because we weren't able to do the qualifying setup yesterday. The car was running really good -- the whole team did an excellent job on that. I'm really happy that I could make up a little bit for yesterday."

Diaz wound up third with a best lap of 1:24.649 (95.179 mph) after being leap-frogged by both Negri and Bergmeister on their final qualifying laps. Nevertheless, it will be Diaz's second-consecutive top-three starting position, and he and co-driver Scott Pruett are looking for a second-straight victory in the race after winning the Ferrari Maserati 400 at California Speedway.

"The car was decent, I just wish that last lap time would have stuck," Diaz said. "We were fighting a condition in which the car was loose on entry, tight through the middle of the corner, then loose on exit. It was difficult to get a good feel for it. We definitely need more grip and balance in the car, but I'm confident the CompUSA team will be able to get it corrected for the race tomorrow."

Diaz shares the second row with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, as Stefan Johansson placed the No. 02 New Century Mortgage Lexus Riley fourth on the grid with a lap at 1:24.719 (95.100 mph). Johansson and co-driver Cort Wagner head into the race with three-straight top-seven finishes, but are still looking for their first Rolex Series podium result.

Rounding out the top five is Memo Gidley in the No. 19 Make A Wish/Air Force Reserve/Commercial Defeasance BMW Riley for Finlay Motorsports. The Novato, Calif. resident is certainly no stranger to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, having competed in several other cars, and he used that experience to his advantage in his first Daytona Prototype go-round this weekend. He will co-drive in the Road & Track 250 with Michael McDowell.

COLLINS COLLECTS GT POLE FOR BMW TEAM PTG

Although defending GT champions BMW Team PTG lost its No. 21 BMW Financial Services BMW M3 for the weekend due to a crash during Saturday morning's practice session, the team rebounded nicely in qualifying as Kelly Collins placed the No. 17 F1 Air BMW M3 on the class pole position with a best lap at 1:32.555 (87.049 mph). It was Collins' first career Rolex Series class pole position, and was the second-consecutive GT pole for the team.

"My pole lap was not my fastest, as my tires were not completely up to temperature, but I got a bit blocked on the next one," Collins said. "I thought my chief competition would be the No. 21 M3, but unfortunately it had to be withdrawn. It was up to us to do the job and we did it. This is my first GT pole for BMW Team PTG and that feels great."

Collins shares the No. 17 with RJ Valentine, and will share the GT front row tomorrow with TRG owner/driver Kevin Buckler, who clocked a best lap of 1:32.867 (86.756 mph) in the No. 88 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup. Buckler is making his first Rolex Series appearance since the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, and will co-drive the No. 88 with Steve Johnson.

Ian James made it two BMW Team PTG machines in the top three, as he qualified third in the No. 22 BMW Financial Services with a lap at 1:33.426 (86.756 mph). James will share the No. 22 with Chris Gleason and Joey Hand, who moves over to the car with the No. 21 machine out of commission.

Starting fourth in class will be Wayne Nonnamaker--who will co-drive in the race with his brother, Will Nonnamaker--in the No. 41 Team Sahlen Porsche GT3 Cup at 1:33.479 (86.188 mph), followed by Charles Espenlaub in the No. 23 Horizon Motorsports Pontiac GTO at 1:33.558 (86.116 mph). Espenlaub shares the No. 23 with Kris Szekeres. Hand's normal co-driver, defending GT champion Bill Auberlen, will share the No. 16 F1 Air BMW M3 with Justin Marks and Tom Milner, who will start the car from 10th on the class grid.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Memo Gidley , Max Papis , Scott Pruett , Bill Auberlen , Joey Hand , Kelly Collins , Luis Diaz , Kevin Buckler , Wayne Nonnamaker , Will Nonnamaker , Ian James , Jörg Bergmeister , Michael McDowell , Justin Marks , Charles Espenlaub , Chris Gleason , Kris Szekeres , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Mark Patterson , Steve Johnson , Michael Shank , Cort Wagner
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing , Team Sahlen , Michael Shank Racing