American Le Mans Team Wins GT Class Pole at Le Mans Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series racing team Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing earned the GT class pole position for this weekend's 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as...
American Le Mans Team Wins GT Class Pole at Le Mans
Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series racing team Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing earned the GT class pole position for this weekend's 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as two days of qualifying ended at midnight (France time) Thursday.
Meanwhile, ALMS team Corvette Racing was knocked off the provisional pole in the GTS class when Prodrive Ferrari driver Tomas Enge pulled off a flying lap just 10 minutes before qualifying ended, after his team had repaired the car from earlier crash damage.
Eleven racing teams that regularly compete in American Le Mans Series events are in the field of 48 that will start Saturday's race at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. U.S. Eastern). Twenty of the teams competed in March's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that opened the 2004 ALMS season.
Fourteen Americans and two Canadians are among the 144 drivers who will race in the Le Mans event, which will be televised live in North America by the SPEED Channel beginning at 9:30 a.m. (Eastern). The cable television channel will have 20.5 hours of live racing coverage.
With qualifying spread over two days, racing teams set the bar on Wednesday night and then raised it on Thursday. The Petersen team, however, retained the provisional pole that it had won on Wednesday night as two-time American Le Mans Series GT class champion Sascha Maassen drove the team's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to a fast time of 4.07.394 on the 8.6-mile circuit. One of his co-drivers for the race, Jorg Bergmeister of Germany, had set the fast time of 4.09.679 on Wednesday. Patrick Long of Oak Park, Calif., will be the third driver as the Petersen team aims for its second straight GT class win in the event.
"I didn't have a lot of laps in the car and this was my first run in daylight and my only timed lap," said Maassen, the most winning driver in ALMS history with 21 race victories. "I am happy that it worked out. But I am sure that everyone in our car was able to do that. This just shows that our car is quick and we might not have to push it 100 percent. So we can save a little bit. We can rule our pace and not have to hassle to drive another pace. The others have to look after us and that is good."
While the Petersen team celebrated, the U.S.-based Corvette Racing team had an almost certain GTS class pole snatched from them by the rival Prodrive Ferrari team. Corvette vs. Ferrari in GTS was the story of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series in 2003 and more of the same is expected in this weekend's race.
Corvette driver Oliver Gavin of England had been the fastest on Wednesday and had run even faster on Thursday, setting up two-time Le Mans race winner Corvette for what would have been its first pole at Le Mans with a lap of 3.49.750. But then Enge ran a lap of 3.49.438 at 11:50 p.m. in his repaired car to win his third consecutive GTS pole at Le Mans.
"You can see how good these guys are in the Prodrive Ferrari team," said Enge, who drove for the team in the full ALMS season last year and hopes to return to America to race after Le Mans if the team can secure sponsorship. "I shunted the car quite badly and the team repaired it in two hours time and they made it so good I could put it on the pole. Fantastic and a really big thank you to everyone."
"Pole position would have been great to achieve, but we are totally focused on being at the front after 24 hours of racing," said Gavin, whose time was relegated to second in the GTS class.
Leading the field overall when the race starts on Saturday will be the two Audi R8 Prototypes of Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx. Johnny Herbert of England won the overall pole as well as the LMP1 class pole with a lap of 3.23.838 on Thursday. He will co-drive with fellow Brits Jamie Davies and Guy Smith.
The highest-qualifying ALMS team was the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 driven by JJ Lehto of Finland, Marco Werner of Germany and Emanuele Pirro of Italy. Werner's qualifying time of 3.34.927 placed the car sixth in the starting grid.
"We needed this time tonight to still set up the car," said Werner, echoing teammate Lehto's statement that the team did not make a qualifying run but instead concentrated on fine-tuning the Audi.
"We want it perfect on race day so we used the time tonight to check out everything," said Werner, the 2004 ALMS champion. "I'm happy with the car now and I feel confident about starting the race on Saturday and finishing first on Sunday."
Qualifying third in the GT class was the combined Orbit Racing/BAM! Porsche, also a regular ALMS competitor. The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR will be shared by Leo Hindery of New York and young German drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marc Lieb.
"We are third on the grid; obviously I'm not happy," said Rockenfeller. "I felt like it was a good car for pole. I had traffic in the chicane, (costing) maybe three or four tenths, but I still thought it was a good lap. I don't know why, I have to look at the data and maybe see where I lost time."
There is no track activity on Friday although the drivers will participate in the traditional Le Mans Parade.