Adrian Fernandez made himself quite at home, again, at the historic Long Beach circuit on Friday, capturing his first overall pole position in the American Le Mans Series in Aston Martin Racing's Lola coupe.
Fernandez, who is driving with Harold Primat, outpaced Patrón Highcroft Racing's Simon Pagenaud by a razor-thin 0.072secs after clocking a lap of 1min 13.213secs, but the Mexican, who has 16 professional starts at Long Beach in his decorated career, needed all his experience to hold off the young Frenchman.
“This isn't a new environment, I've competed here many times,” said Fernandez, who won in an LMP2 Acura here last year with Luis Diaz, “To come here with a new team and be successful is great. We competed last weekend at Paul Ricard and were very competitive. After being here a long time, you learn when to push and when to take care of your tires. You have to be alert and work well with your team. I expect a good race tomorrow, especially with the old LMP2s.They are a bit better on the braking but we are faster on the straights so it'll be like the old days when we had to fight with the Audis.”
The outcome came as a bit of a surprise to even the Aston Martin Racing team, as its big production-based V12-powered prototype was supposed to struggle with its heavier weight than the LMP2-spec cars.
“I think the traffic will help us," Fernandez admitted, "We were very quick through the corners last year in the LMP2s and not so fast on the straights, so in the traffic now we'll have a bit of an advantage. It's not a very long race so if you make a mistake you won't get a lot of time to repair it. I'm sure there will be one or yellows so you're going to have to have good strategy. And we're going to have to play the strategy as it comes and see how it plays out.
“The people who make the road car have done a good job to design this car not to just look good, but make it run well at Le Mans. And the engine is very big and very heavy which is great for fourth and fifth gear corners, fast corners, but not street circuits like here. So you see you have to be good about braking and taking care of the car.”
Christophe Bouchut captured his first career pole position for Level 5 Motorsports in LMP Challenge. Bouchut's time of 1min 18.588secs barely nipped Gunnar Jeannette in G-Oil's Green Earth Team Gunnar entry by 0.219secs. Bouchut will team with Level 5 owner Scott Tucker, who won the inaugural LMPC race at Sebring with Mark Wilkins. Jeannette is driving with Elton Julian.
“It's a really good feeling for sure to be on pole position, especially after our first win at Sebring,” Bouchut said, “Our team did a great job. I had no problems at all during the tests. The laps were all wonderful. We had a good set-up and did lap after lap. The ORECA is new, but it's got a lot of experience from the Courage [factory], and it was great to show it runs for twelve hours. We were one of the few with no problems. Even though the race will be much shorter we'll still have to fight for every lap to stay the leader.”
This is the first race for the ORECA FLM09s on a street circuit and the first Long Beach race for a majority of drivers in the class, Bouchut among them.