Scott Dixon created the first upset of the Sebring 12 Hours weekend by claiming a debut pole for the new Acura ARX.02a against the expected might of both Audi and Peugeot.
With much of the attention focused on the diesel-powered factory teams, the reigning IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion - who was making his Sebring sportscar debut - turned in a lap of 1min 45.278secs in de Ferran Motorsports' new LMP1 machine. The result also upset the Acura applecart, with the Patron Highcroft Racing squad having been expected to lead the Acura charge.
“It's been a great week, especially now having Acura on the overall pole, but it was unexpected," Kiwi Dixon admitted, "We always shoot for the pole from the get-go but, realistically, I thought we were only going to be third or fourth.
"It was interesting when I heard I was going to qualify the car - I'm not sure why Gil [de Ferran] picked me in the end, but I think all three of us could have done it. I've watched this race for many years, so it's great that I get to race here. I've tested on the short track many times with IndyCar, but never on the big track, so you can't help but grin from ear to ear to be excited.”
It was a first American Le Mans Series pole for Dixon, who beat out four-time Sebring winner Tom Kristensen's Audi by just 0.082secs in the machine he will share with team owner de Ferran and Frenchman Simon Pagenaud in what will a Sebring ALMS debut for all three.
Dixon's pole was made more surprising by the fact that the diesel Audis and Peugeots had been the quickest cars in every session through the week-long build-up to qualifying, with Kristensen - who forms part of Audi's more experienced line-up with Dindo Capello and Allan McNish - among those tipped to claim fastest time despite the Ingolstadt marque's R15 being even newer than the Acura.
The top five qualifiers were within 0.281secs of each other around the bruising 17-turn 3.7-mile circuit, with Peugeot's Christian Klien third fastest to ensure the three contending LMP1 manufacturers were all represented at the front of the grid. The Austrian lapped the faster of the two French 908 HDi coupes at 1min 45.462secs, to keep the French entry ahead of the second Audi - crewed by Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Werner - the second Peugeot - with Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Bourdais up - and the Highcroft Acura, which could only manage sixth spot in the hands of David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti.
Acura also secured the LMP2 pole, with Adrian Fernandez posting a lap of 1min 49.686secs lap in the Lowe's Fernandez Racing ARX-01b to give the marque a second class pole at Sebring. The Mexican outpaced Dyson Racing's two new Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes, and will now hope for better fortune in the race, having been disqualified from third overall and the LMP2 honours twelve months ago.
“It feels good to start the season well,” Fernandez said, “Last year was frustrating that we didn't ever get a win we deserved, and it was always some little stupid things that prevented us. It's great to focus on finishing the race. We know the car, we know the track, and we have the most experience in the car.”