Patrón Highcroft Racing's Simon Pagenaud came within inches of grabbing pole position for the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series event at Long Beach, missing out by only 0.072 of a second in a red flag-interrupted qualifying session.
The Frenchman had held the fastest time with HPD's Acura ARX-01c at the halfway point of the 20-minute session but, after the break, his time of 1min 13.285secs was eclipsed with only minutes remaining by the Lola Aston Martin of Adrian Fernandez. Pagenaud then looked set to regain the pole with a stunning final lap - team telemetry indicated that he was headed for a time two-tenths of a second faster than his previous best - only for a small error to curtail the final assault.
"It was very close out there - I had to push very hard," Pagenaud admitted, "That Aston Martin is so quick in the straights that we had to push really hard in the corners. I was pushing so hard to be close to the Aston - I was actually up a couple of tenths of a second on that last flier but, unfortunately, I made a little mistake. I'll take the blame for that one so hopefully we can do better next time.
"The Highcroft squad did a great job in preparing the car - in practice, it was not too good as it didn't ride the bumps really well and we were struggling with the balance, but they made some great changes and we went in the right direction on set-up. I think the car will be really strong in the race. The Michelin tyres were in excellent shape at the end of qualifying and that is a really good sign for tomorrow."
This weekend's event is the first where the more powerful, but heavier, LMP1 machines like the Aston Martin are combined into a single LMP class with the lighter, more nimble, LMP2 entries like the Highcroft machine. The straight line speed advantage of the Aston Martin will be the major hurdle for Pagenaud and team-mate David Brabham on Saturday.
The Australian will start tomorrow's race before handing over to Pagenaud, the man looking to repeat his 2009 Long Beach race victory in the hour-and-40 minute event.
"Simon did a really great job out there today," Brabham said, "It would have been great to be on pole, but a front row start is still very good. It will be tough to keep with the Aston Martin down the straight at the start, but I'll have to push very hard on the opening lap to try to get into the lead and open up a big enough gap to negate that straight line speed advantage.
"The team did a great job improving the car throughout the day. We couldn't really take much from this morning's session because the track had no rubber down, but I'm really looking forward to the race tomorrow. I really love this place and can't wait to get out there. The traffic is going to a big challenge but it will provide some good passing opportunities."