Bell Races out of the Hospital and on to the Pole Matt Bell set a time of 1:27.803 (94.302 mph) on his first lap of qualifying Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and will lead the 27-car Grand Sport (GS) field to the green flag in Sunday's Grand-Am Fan Appreciation Weekend, the second round of the 2009 KONI Sports Car Challenge season.
Meanwhile, in Street Tuner (ST), Andrew Aquilante set his flying lap on his final run around the 2.3-mile, 11-turn track, taking a time of 1:32.976 (89.055 mph), three thousandths of a second quicker than Christian Miller's time.
Despite not running during the morning session and earning limited track time during the afternoon, Bell - who was hospitalized from apparent food poisoning Thursday evening - was on the throttle early, and made his first lap count in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3. He led the entire session, besting Peter Ludwig's No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group Porsche 997 by four hundredths of a second. Ludwig, sharing the No. 18 with Billy Johnson, set a time of 1:27.843 (94.259 mph).
Bell's co-driver, Bill Auberlen, was fastest during the morning session and is a former winner here in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. Auberlen won the Daytona Prototype race in 2007.
For Bell, who made the step up from ST to GS this season, this was the first pole position in KONI Challenge for the Los Altos, Calif., native. He and Auberlen triumphed in January's Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway, and are the point leaders by three (35-32) over Jack Roush Jr. and Hugh Plumb, who compete in the No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT. Roush qualified the No. 61 eighth with a time of 1:28.522 (93.536 mph).
Trailing Bell and Ludwig was Daniel DiLeo, the only KONI Challenge driver pulling double duty this weekend. DiLeo, co-driving with 2009 Rolex 24 winner Darren Law, set a time of 1:27.859 (94.242 mph) in the No. 8 Maxwell Paper Racing Porsche 997.
Fourth was Miami native and Daytona Prototype regular Ozz Negri, taking the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT to a time of 1:28.153 (93.926 mph); he will drive Sunday with Ken Wilden. Fifth was Charles Putman, who took the No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3 to a time of 1:28.217 (93.859 mph).
South Florida drivers and teams were scattered through the field. Glenn Bocchino (Delray Beach) was seventh, while Lee Davis (Fisher Island) was 26th. Ranger Sports Racing, located in Ft. Lauderdale, was 23rd and 24th with Canadians Fraser Wellon and Frank Rossi, respectively.
In ST, Aquilante waited until moments before the checkered flag to set his lap. After a couple of laps of cooling the tires on the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy, the Phoenixville, Pa., driver pushed the car to its limit, giving him his second career and second straight ST pole. His first pole came at Daytona in January. The pole was also the second straight for the No. 111 at Homestead-Miami, as two years ago Chuck Hemmingson earned the top starting spot. Aquilante will drive Saturday with Kristian Skavnes.
Miller's time of 1:32.979 (89.052 mph) in the No. 74 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si, stood for several minutes before Aquilante topped the charts. However, the run was still Miller's best-ever qualifying effort. He will share the No. 74 with Randy Pobst on Saturday. Skavnes and Pobst were fastest in practice.
Ian Baas, second in Friday's morning session, was third in the No. 171 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GT, taking a time of 1:33.029 (89.005 mph). Baas is sharing the car with Cooper City, Fla., native Josh Hurley, who led at Daytona in January.
Fourth was another Miami native and former GS champion Jeff Segal, who took the No. 24 V-Pack Motorsport BMW 330i to a time of 1:33.098 (88.939 mph). The car was originally withdrawn before the first practice Friday morning, but was reentered later in the day with the assistance of Segal's co-driver Dr. Joe Masessa.
Rounding out the top five was Kendall Smith, who took the No. 02 Maxwell Paper Racing Mazda RX-8 to a time of 1:33.350 (88.698 mph). The car was second quickest in the afternoon session.
Like GS, South Florida natives earned starting spots throughout the field. Fresh From Florida 200 co-winner Pat Iannucci (Boca Raton) was 12th; while Andrew Carbonell's (Miami) co-driver Rhett O'Doski qualified 23rd. The Miami trio of Ricky Diaz, Manuel Vicente and Alfredo Carbonell, Andrew's father, earned 28th after not taking a time. Twenty-seven of the 31 ST cars took qualifying times.
Saturday's two-and-a-half hour ST race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., and Sunday's GS race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. Both classes will practice Saturday morning.
NEWS & NOTES
- This was Matt Bell's first career Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge pole position and the first pole of the season for a BMW M3. Bell joins Dean Martin as a pole winner for 2009 in Grand Sport.
- Peter Ludwig's second fastest qualifying time was his best ever.
- Daniel DiLeo's third fastest qualifying time matched his second best starting spot; a car in which he's competed started second last season at Barber Motorsports Park.
- Ozz Negri qualified fourth for his first career KONI Sports Car Challenge start.
- Charles Putman qualified fifth, matching a career best in which his car has qualified.
- Four Ford Mustang GTs qualified in the top 10, while three BMW M3s and three Porsche 997s rounded out the top 10. The only Dodge Challenger in the field, the No. 5 from Blackforest Motorsports, was 22nd.
- The top 10 cars qualified within one second of each other.
- All 27 cars entered in Grand Sport took qualifying times.
- In ST, this was Andrew Aquilante's second career and second straight Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner pole position and second pole of the season for a Subaru Legacy. Aquilante is the only driver in ST to earn a pole so far this season.
- Christian Miller's second fastest qualifying time was his best ever. His previous best starting spot was fourth, set most recently in January's Fresh From Florida 200.
- Ian Baas will start from the second row, his highest-ever starting position in a car which he qualified.
- Jeff Segal qualified fourth for his first-ever ST start. His previous 32 KONI starts have all come in GS.
- Kendall Smith qualified fifth, his first-ever top-10 start in KONI competition. His previous best start was 15th, which came in GS.
- The top six cars in ST were all different models. The top Honda Civic Si, which qualified second, broke the streak with a seventh by another Compass360 Racing driver, Matt Pritiko. Honda Civic Sis also earned ninth and 10th.
- Twenty-seven of the 31 ST entries took times. Those that did not were the No. 13 Mazda RX-8, No. 30 Mazda RX-8, No. 48 Chevrolet Cobalt SS and No. 114 Audi TT.
- The top three cars qualified within five hundredths of a second, and the top 10 cars all qualified within one second of each other.
SELECT POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES
Matt Bell (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3; quickest in GS): "I wasn't feeling amazing this morning. I missed the first practice, but you know what I came back and Bill (Auberlen) had set up an amazing car, extremely easy to drive. I was kind of struggling with things before. It was a miracle. I went out on the first lap and I felt just 100 percent different. The car just did everything I wanted it to do.
"Coming from Daytona I almost feel more pressure today than I did than, simply because we won at Daytona and now there's all this pressure to maybe do it again and keep it up front. Like I said, it wasn't feeling too great this morning. It wasn't looking like a good deal. Again, I got here and the car did everything perfectly. I feel much better now."
Peter Ludwig (No. 18 Marcus Motorsport Porsche 997; second quickest in GS): "I think we got in our P-2 lap early on in the session. The car was hooked up nice. I tried hard, but I had a little traffic. We're really happy right now. I've got to hand it to the team, they did a great job. I ran with these guys two years ago. We won at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and came in second at Lime Rock Park. Marcus Motorsports is a great organization and I'm happy to be back with them again."
Daniel DiLeo (No. 8 Maxwell Paper Racing Porsche 997; third quickest in GS): "I've got great starting spots in both races. We're fifth in ST and third in GS. I'm looking forward to the double duty. Maxwell Paper Company has put two great cars underneath me, and every time we get on the track we get a little bit better. That's a good sign of things to come. Hopefully, we'll have two good finishes by the end of the weekend."
Ozz Negri (No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT; fourth quickest in GS): "I think it was a little bit hard to take pole. The BMWs and Porsches are fast cars. The Rehagen team has done a fantastic job giving me a great car, and we were able to qualify fourth, which is pretty good. Kenny (co-driver Wilden) has been helping me with the transition from Daytona Prototype to KONI. Coming from the DP, the GS cars are a little strange, but I'm enjoying it immensely and I'm very glad to be here and to be part of this race."
Andrew Aquilante (No. 111 SRRT Phoenix Subaru Legacy; quickest in ST): "It was pretty intense. I took a breather with about three minutes left in the session, then I turned it up for that last lap. I got a tiny bit of a draft off another car, and it was just enough. That's two poles in a row this season. Up front is the best place to start, because you're out of the middle of the field where a lot of stuff can go wrong. It's a great position to be in."
Christian Miller (No. 74 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si; second quickest in ST): "It was an amazing run, and everyone at Compass360 did a great job, and I have a wonderful co-driver. The car was quick all weekend. It couldn't offer anything better. I think we'll be looking good for the race, we've got it figured out pretty good."
Randy Pobst (No. 74 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si; co-driver of second quickest in ST): "The Compass360 team is strong, and running this Honda reminds me of the good old days in the Firestone Firehawk series. You can really feel the personality of this Honda, and Christian did a fantastic job. He wrung that car's neck! I think it's going to be a heck of a race tomorrow."
Ian Baas (No. 171 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI; third quickest in ST): "It went according to plan. I went out with Andrew Aquilante in front of me. I knew he had done some really good times, so all I had to do was hang on to him. He was giving me some killer drafts all the way down into Turn 1, and I was enjoying that. We got a time that we thought was good, so we started circulating to see what would happen. I made another good run at it, but I didn't have the draft at that point. I'm very happy with the time. The qualifying order, as close as it is, is a testament to the series and all the team that make such equal cars."
Jeff Segal (No. 24 V-Pack Motorsport BMW 330i; fourth quickest in ST): "This is great running with the V-Pack guys. This is my first time in an ST car, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. Dr. Joe Masessa is going to co-drive, and he didn't even get here yet. It should end up great for the race. We're not sure of the strategy, but we hope we'll be there at the end. We'll be up late working on the strategy."
Ashley McCalmont (No. 01 Georgian Bay Chevrolet Cobalt SS; sixth quickest in ST): "It was pretty close. It was my fastest lap of the weekend, so far, and I'm happy with that."