Maserati surprises Vette team at Petit LeMans
The Doran Racing Lista and Lista Office Maserati MC12 No. 27 was not only close to the two factory Corvettes Friday at Road Atlanta, it beat them in GT1 qualifying for Saturday's 10th annual Petit Le Mans American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race.
Andrea Bertolini took just 1:17.428 to cover Road Atlanta's 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course for an average speed of 118.097 miles per hour in qualifying. Johnny O'Connell's Corvette was almost a full second behind, as its fastest lap was a 1:18.415 (116.610 mph). Oliver Gavin's Corvette's fastest lap in the 25-minute qualifying session was a 1:18.602 (116.333 mph). Bertolini threw down the gauntlet with a 1:18.082 early in the session right before Arie Luyendyk Jr. brought out a red flag when he stopped in Turn 10. The green waved again about four minutes later, and Bertolini responded with a 1:17.977.
The fourth of the eight laps posted by the driver from Castellarano, Reggio Emilia, Italy ended up being the one that counted. Kevin Doran, owner of the Lebanon, Ohio-based team, brought Bertolini in at that point and Bertolini waited in the cockpit on pit road to see if the Corvettes would mount a last-minute challenge. None materialized, and the pole was in the record books.
The Corvettes have won all the GT1 poles since last year's season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The beautiful blue Maserati will be in the 17th starting spot overall when the 1,000-mile/10-hour race gets the green flag at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time Saturday. The yellow Corvettes will be right behind it in 18th and 19th spot in the 33-car field. Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz., who chose Bertolini to qualify the car due to his extensive experience with this marque overseas, and car owner Fredy Lienhard of Niederteufen, Switzerland will share the driving duties tomorrow. Bertolini is currently second in the FIA GT driver point standings in Europe for Maserati with one race remaining overseas.
Saturday's Petit Le Mans will be only the second race ever for the No. 27 Maserati, and the team's primary goal remains finishing the race. Cars must complete at least 70 percent of the overall winner's distance to be eligible for points and prize money.
"It's a very important day for me and for the team, but especially for Maserati," Bertolini said. "I like the car, I like the team, I like Road Atlanta and I like our Michelin tires. Michelin is very strong, especially in the United States. The tires were very consistent. Kevin Doran and the whole team work very hard. It's a really good team; Kevin has a lot of experience in the United States. The atmosphere is very nice. I have to thank Fredy Lienhard and Didier Theys for giving me this opportunity. They race for fun, and our target is just to finish the race."