Four rear tyres plus a brand new car equalled pole position for Simon Pagenaud and de Ferran Motorsports ahead of this weekend's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St Petersburg.

In the absence of Sebring dominators Audi and Peugeot, the young French star was the fastest qualifier for round two of the American Le Mans Series, posting a lap of 1min 03.776secs in the de Ferran Acura ARX-02a and earning his first ALMS pole to follow on from temporary team-mate Scott Dixon's in round one.

With team-mate and owner Gil de Ferran looking on, Pagenaud went 0.946secs quicker than Patron Highcroft Racing's similarly-mounted Scott Sharp, while a good day for Acura was made even better as Lowe's Fernandez Racing's Luis Diaz claimed third on the grid, and top spot in the LMP2 class.

"The car has been behaving very well since this morning," Pagenaud revealed, "I was expecting trouble, and having so much contact patch at the front made me think it would be moving around, but it was very good."

One of the reasons for Pagenaud's concern is the unique ARX-02a design that features the same size tyres on all four corners of the car. That, combined with a radical aerodynamic package, increases the amount of downforce the Acura LMP1 machine generates, an optimal feature on the tight and twisty bits that are common with street circuits.

"It's a very sophisticated and complicated car, and we gain seven per cent more contact patch on the front, so it helps us turn the front better," Pagenaud confirmed, "It is helping us get a P1 car as fast - or faster - in the corners as P2 cars.

"It was important for us to have a good car at Sebring for testing, and you expect that, if it is good at Sebring, then it will be good on street circuits. We have a little softer set-up here, but the car is good on long runs and I expect it to be very good for the race."

Intersport Racing's Lola B06/10-AER of Jon Field, Clint Field and Chapman Ducote took third spot in the P1 class at 1min 09.044secs, but will line up only sixth on the grid as Diaz's Acura was followed by the two P2 entries from Dyson Racing.

Diaz followed team-mate Adrian Fernandez's class pole at Sebring - as well as their first P2 victory - with his first career ALMS pole. The Mexican's lap of 1min 05.178secs bested Dyson Racing's Guy Smith by just 0.286secs as the 2008 Lowe's Fernandez car came out on top over the two new Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes.

"It's a good feeling," Diaz admitted, "The whole team did a great job and the Michelins worked great. The Dyson guys are getting closer and we knew they would be strong - when we tested on the short track at Sebring we knew they would be close. We have to work on the car to make it consistent for long runs."

After one of the worst seasons in terms of luck a team could have, the Lowe's Fernandez team is showing strength early in 2009. Not only did the car win the P2 pole and race at Sebring, it also posted the fastest race lap in class and led for more than eleven of the twelve hours.

"Everyone is going to be more aggressive [in this race]," Diaz added, "It will be a street fight between the Dysons and us. We have to keep the same mentality as Sebring - not making mistakes in traffic and keeping our nose clean. There is trouble everywhere. It is very tough and we have to be aware of everything out there."

With no GT1 entries, Jaime Melo's GT2 pole for Risi Competizione - the team's first GT2 pole at St Petersburg and Ferrari's second in three years - was good enough for seventh overall. The Brazilian turned in a lap of 1min 12.892secs to just outpace Wolf Henzler, last year's fastest GT2 qualifier.

"I didn't expect to do this kind of lap," Melo confessed, "We had some understeer problems in the first practice. I got in the car halfway to the end of the second practice and we hadn't fixed it completely, but it had improved a lot. If you have a lot of understeer on a track like this it then you can lose a lot of time."

Henzler, in the Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, posted a best lap of 1min 13.173secsimproving on the team's third in class at St Pete last season, while Joey Hand made it three different manufacturers in the top three by taking the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team's new M3 around in 1min 13.267secs.

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment