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St. Pete: Penske Porsche on top in opening practice
Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas apparently haven’t lived down their high from winning the 12 Hours of Sebring three weeks ago. Penske Racing’s dynamic duo set the fastest time in the first practice for the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by XM Satellite Radio with thanks to Bernhard’s lap of 1:03.819 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.

Bernhard and Dumas scored Penske’s first overall victory at Sebring with the Porsche RS Spyder. The defending LMP2 class champions came up 0.116 seconds short last year at St. Petersburg in class, losing out to Sascha Maassen and Ryan Briscoe with Audi Sport North America’s Dindo Capello and Allan McNish taking the overall win.

Bernhard was 1.262 seconds ahead of Patr¢n Highcroft Racing’s Acura ARX-01b of David Brabham and Scott Sharp, who were at 1:05.081 (99.568 mph). Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez were next in the Lowe’s Fernandez Acura, third overall.

The first of the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDIs sat fourth overall and first in LMP1. Marco Werner’s time of 1:05.797 (98.485 mph) in the No. 2 Audi he will drive with Lucas Luhr was more than 1.5 seconds better than the sister Audi. Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro will make their first start of the season and were ninth overall, one spot and 0.260 seconds ahead of Intersport Racing’s trio of Clint Field, Jon Field and Richard Berry.

Defending GT1 race-winner Oliver Gavin was quickest in GT1 at 1:11.195 (91.018 mph) for Corvette Racing in the first race for the Corvette C6.R powered by cellulosic E85. Gavin and Olivier Beretta coasted to a class victory last year and were more than two seconds ahead of the sister Corvette of Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen. Bell Motorsports’ Aston Martin DBR9 of Terry Borcheller and Chapman Ducote was another second back.

Risi Competizione’s Jaime Melo sat between the Corvettes in the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT. Melo turned in a time of 1:13.240 (88.262 mph) in the car he will share with Mika Salo as the pair attempts to win its second straight GT2 win at St. Petersburg. Melo was 0.373 seconds ahead of Tafel Racing’s Ferrari of Dirk Müller and Dominik Farnbacher.

Flying Lizard Motorsports’ No. 46 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was third in class with Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet turning a 1:14.672 (86.780 mph).

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