Gil de Ferran's storybook weekend at Laguna Seca continued on Friday as he claimed pole position for the Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patrón, the final race in the Brazilian's lengthy career.
de Ferran's best lap of 1min 11.20secs in the XM-backed Acura ARX-02a barely beat out good friend and close rival David Brabham in the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura, but was enough for him to top the timesheets for one final time before heading into the retirement he announced in August.
“It's no secret this will be my last race,” de Ferran, who will again team with Simon Pagenaud this weekend, said. “There is a lot of 'last this' and 'last that', so there are all kinds of emotions but, when you're strapped in the car, you're not thinking about 'this is the last time'. You think about going quicker and keeping your eye on the ball. At times, it's not easy, but I have a job to do and that's to extract the best out of the car.”
He extracted just enough in qualifying, nipping Brabham by 0.092secs in one of the tightest sessions of the year. Brabham and team-mate Scott Sharp lead the LMP1 championship by 21 points heading into the weekend and, with class winners earning 25 points, only needs to complete 70 per cent of the overall winner's distance on Saturday to score sufficient points to clinch the title.
de Ferran retired from open-wheel competition with pole position at Texas in 2003. He went on to win the race and would like nothing more to end his sportscar career on a similar note.
“I have to admit it was tough," the Brazilian veteran conceded, "We've been struggling with the handling of the Acura. We've made a lot of changes going one way or going back the other, but we had a good set-up for qualifying. I still don't think the car is as good as it can be. The car had a bit of an understeer, so I was throwing the car into the corners like a go-kart and it was fun. I'm glad we came out with the pole, but there were some anxious moments.
“I won my last IndyCar race at Texas in 2003 and was also on pole there - and, so far, I'm keeping my record intact. I need to stop thinking in those terms though. This is anybody's race and we need to execute. I should drive no different. I pride myself for being a rational person and, if you're racing for a million dollars or ten cents, you should drive the same way. That's the way I have to approach it for tomorrow.”
Jonny Cocker qualified the Drayson Racing Lola B09/60-Judd third in class and fifth overall, as the Lowe's Fernandez Racing LMP2 Acura wrapped up a top three sweep for the Japanese brand. Luis Diaz claimed his fourth class pole of the year in the team's ARX-01b having held top spot overall for the majority of the session's first half.
Diaz and Fernandez are seeking their record-tying eighth P2 victory of the season, and they already wrapped up the class driver championship at Mosport in August. Lowe's Fernandez also clinched the team title two weeks ago at Road Atlanta and Petit Le Mans.