Peugeot broke Audi's stranglehold on the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year and could be on the way to doing the same at Road Atlanta after Nic Minassian led a front-row sweep for Peugeot Sport in qualifying for the 12th annual Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA6, the first step toward what the French manufacturer hopes is its first victory in the American Le Mans Series.
Minassian's lap of 1min 06.937secs in the Peugeot 908 HDi that he will drive with Pedro Lamy outpaced Franck Montagny in the sister factory coupe by 0.223 seconds. Montagny, whose best lap was 1min 07.160secs will team with fellow Frenchman and last year's pole-winner Stephane Sarrazin.
“Coming here and racing in America is the best training you can get,” said Minassian, who won the overall Petit Le Mans pole in a Creation-Judd prototype for the 2007 race. “You get the best fight with the teams…very professional. And the tracks here are very challenging. It's satisfying when you are successful. I think the team has improved a lot because of the experience they've had over the years. The mechanics, engineers, everything - they were focused but young so the experience has really helped us develop. I think the thinking is a bit more straight forward.”
That will help with Peugeot seeking to end Audi's nine-year winning streak at Petit Le Mans. The German manufacturer, also winner at Le Mans in eight of the last ten years, grabbed third on the grid with Dindo Capello's lap of 1min 08.200secs. He will drive one of Audi Sport Team Joest's two factory R15 TDIs with Allan McNish.
The pairing won Petit Le Mans the last three seasons including a nail-biting race against Peugeot last year. The odds are even this year with a two-on-two battle; Peugeot had only one 908 in the 2008 race.
“It is always easier with two cars,” Minassian said. “You can try different things with each car. If you only have one car, it's always in the back of your mind that this is the only chance you have. But with two cars, you can take a little bit more risk if you need to.”
Simon Pagenaud was the fastest non-diesel qualifier with a lap of 1min 08.348secs. He placed fifth in qualifying behind the wheel of de Ferran Motorsports' XM Acura ARX-02a that he will share with Gil de Ferran and Scott Dixon. The other Acura LMP1 entry from championship-leading Patrón Highcroft Racing did not qualify as the team continued to build up a new chassis after Scott Sharp's horrific crash in Thursday afternoon's practice.
Dyson Racing's Marino Franchitti captured his third consecutive LMP2 pole position in his Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupe. Franchitti's best lap of 1min 10.152secs was more than a second clear of Klaus Graf in the Team Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder.
Franchitti will drive with Butch Leitzinger - the two were class winners at Lime Rock - and Ben Devlin. The car missed significant practice time earlier this week after installing a new engine Thursday morning.