Pagenaud puts Acura on pole in St. Pete
Four rear tires plus a brand new car equaled pole position for Simon Pagenaud on Friday. The young French star was the fastest qualifier Friday for de Ferran Motorsports at the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg with a lap of 1:03.776 (101.606 mph) in the team’s Acura ARX-02a. Pagenaud earned his first American Le Mans Series pole and the team’s second straight to open the season.
With teammate and owner Gil de Ferran looking on, Pagenaud went 0.946 seconds quicker than Patr¢n Highcroft Racing’s Scott Sharp, also driving an Acura LMP1 entry. It was a good day for Acura with Lowe’s Fernandez Racing’s Luis Diaz placing third overall and first in LMP2.
“The car has been behaving very well since this morning,” Pagenaud said. “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 is the unique design that features the same size tires on all four wheels of the Acura P1 car. That combined with a radical aerodynamic package increases the amount of downforce the ARX-02a generates, an optimal feature on the tight and twisty bits that are common with street circuits.
The car also qualified on the overall pole at the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida to open the season. Reigning IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion Scott Dixon was the fastest qualifier there.
“It’s a very sophisticated and complicated car,” Pagenaud said. “We gain 7 percent more contact patch on the front so it helps us turn the front better. 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 setup here. The car is good on long runs and I expect it to be very good for the race.”
Sharp will team with David Brabham in the Patr¢n Highcroft Acura. Intersport Racing’s Lola B06/10-AER of Jon Field, Clint Field and Chapman Ducote was third in P1 at 1:09.044 (93.853 mph).
Diaz followed teammate Adrian Fernandez’s class pole at Sebring, as well as their first victory, with his first career Series pole. His lap of 1:05.178 (99.420 mph) bested Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith by just 0.286 seconds.
Diaz and Fernandez are driving the same Acura ARX-01b they were in last season with Dyson entered two new Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes. Smith and Chris Dyson are in one entry with Marino Franchitti, who qualified third in class, and Butch Leitzinger in the second car.
“It’s a good feeling,” Diaz said. “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. 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 11 hours.
“Everyone is going to be more aggressive (in the race),” Diaz said. “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.”
Jaime Melo gave Risi Competizione its first GT2 pole at St. Petersburg and Ferrari its second in three years. Risi’s Brazilian star turned in a lap of 1:12.892 (88.899 mph)to outpace barely Wolf Henzler, last year’s fastest class qualifier. Melo was a winner here two years ago with Mika Salo in Risi’s Ferrari F430 GT just a couple of weeks after winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The two ended that season with eight wins and the driver championship.
Fast forward to this year with Melo and Pierre Kaffer entering St. Petersburg after the team’s second Sebring class victory.
“I didn’t expect to do this kind of lap,” Melo said. “We had some understeer problems in the first practice. I got in the car halfway to the end of the second practice. We didn’t fix it completely but 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, had a best lap of 1:13.173 (88.557 mph) and will drive with Dirk Werner. The team was third in class here last season. Three different manufacturers were in the top three with Joey Hand third in BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team’s new BMW M3 at 1:13.267 (88.444 mph).
The Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg is the second round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series. The green flag is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 4 from the St. Petersburg street circuit. ABC Sports will televise the race live beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET Live Timing & Scoring and American Le Mans Radio can be found at the new americanlemans.com. Satellite radio subscribers can hear the race live from 1 to 3:30 p.m. ET on XM Channel 244 and Sirius Channel 126.
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