ALMS teams fare well in LeMans prelim American Le Mans Series drivers posted three of the four quickest class times Sunday in the annual Le Mans Test Day. The two four-hour sessions represented the only opportunity for teams and competitors to prepare themselves at the famed French venue for the 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Adrian Fernandez (LMP2), Jan Magnussen (GT1) and Patrick Long (GT2) all were two seconds or more under last year's class pole times.
Audi's diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI held the second, third and sixth positions overall. Defending race winner Frank Biela set the day's second-best time at 3:28.277, nearly two full seconds better than teammate Rinaldo Capello's pole-winning time from 2006. Biela, who will reunite with Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner, trailed only Peugeot's Sebastien Bourdais, a winner at Sebring last year for Panoz. The Le Mans native turned in a lap of 3:26.707.
Biela's Audi, however, turned in the most laps of any car entered Sunday with 92. Mike Rockenfeller, an American Le Mans Series regular in 2005-06, was third overall in the R10 TDI he shared with Capello and Allan McNish at 3:28.406. It was Rockenfeller's first day at Le Mans in a prototype.
"We had a very extensive program on our agenda, which we managed to work through almost completely," said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich. "In the end, we were lacking merely 10 minutes; otherwise we could have even completed the final tire test we'd been planning to do. I think we've worked out a good base for the race."
Fernandez, making his first appearance at Le Mans, turned in a P2 best 3:39.016 in a Zytek 07S/2 for Barazi Epsilon. The Mexican star is teaming with Haruki Kurosawa and Robbie Kerr as Fernandez prepares for what he hopes is the debut for Acura and Lowe's Fernandez Racing in 2008. Fernandez posted the exact time as the sister Zytek.
Fernandez is the first Mexican driver to enter Le Mans since Tomas Lopez in 1991. One of Fernandez's heroes, Pedro Rodriguez, was a winner at the 24 Hours in 1968.
"The experience of being at Le Mans has just been fantastic," said Fernandez. "I rode the track on a bicycle and then we drove it and, knowing the history of this place, it was just incredible, particularly the public roads where the straights are very long. It is amazing, especially when you are in the race car. It gives you a perspective of how it used to be, like in the Fangio years, because you are on these long straights - some are winding roads - and you are doing over 300 kph. It is very fast, and you are in top gear for a long, long time."
Corvette Racing's two Corvette C6.Rs were first and third in GT1. Magnussen led the way with a 3:49.207 in his attempt for a fourth straight class win after winning with Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin from 2004-06. This year, he is joining Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, with whom he won at Houston in class.
Aston Martin Racing's Tomas Enge, a regular for Petersen/White Lightning in the American Le Mans Series, was second in GT1 at 3:50.848. He will be trying for his sixth consecutive class pole at Le Mans. Third was the other Corvette of Beretta, Gavin and Max Papis, 2.42 seconds off Magnussen's pace.
"Today has been the best pre-qualifying I have ever had with Corvette Racing," said Magnussen. "We managed to set up the car just the way we like it and made very good progress throughout the day. We now have a car with which we can attack hard without risking falling off, which is exactly what we'll need for the race because I think this year will be a tough one."
Long, America's lone Porsche factory driver, posted a time of 4:01.598 for the French IMSA Performance Matmut team and its Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Porsches held the top three spots with its new Type 997.
Flying Lizard Motorsports and driver Jorg Bergmeister, Seth Neiman and Johannes van Overbeek were third in class and 1.07 seconds behind Long.
Risi Competizione's lead Ferrari F430 GT of Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and Johnny Mowlem was fourth in class at 1.82 seconds off Long's pace. The sister car of Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Colin Braun was seventh. Defending class winner Panoz sat sixth and eighth following strong performances by the Panoz Esperante GTLMs of Team LNT.
The 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. ET) on Saturday, June 16 from the Circuit de la Sarthe. SPEED will provide 17.5 hours of coverage in North America starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on June 16. MotorsTV will air week-long coverage throughout Europe. Live coverage can be found on Radio Le Mans through americanlemans.com.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 7 at Lime Rock Park. CBS Sports will televise the race at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 8. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA Live Timing & Scoring. ALMS PR