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Bentley's stun in provisional LeMans quals

June 11, 2003

LE MANS, France  – Many of the 21 teams from the American Le Mans Series competing in the 71st running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans had strong performances in the first day of qualifying practice Wednesday for this weekend’s event.

The two-car Bentley Speed 8 team was the fastest overall among the 50 cars that will start the world’s most famous sports car endurance race at 4 p.m. (France time) on Saturday. Television viewers in North America will be able to watch 17 hours of live coverage of the race on the SPEED Channel beginning at 9 a.m. (U.S. Eastern) on Saturday. Qualifying practice will continue on Thursday with four more hours of track time that will set the starting lineup for the race.

The fastest four cars on Wednesday were all competitors in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that started the 2003 American Le Mans Series season in March.

Tom Kristensen of Denmark, the American Le Mans Series LMP 900 driving champion last year when he was on the factory Audi team, set the fastest lap of the day Wednesday of 3:32.843 in a Bentley. Kristensen, a four-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and on the winning team the past three years in a row, set his fast lap in the day’s second session that started at 10 p.m. He will co-drive with Rinaldo Capello of Italy and Guy Smith of England in the car that is on the provisional pole.

“That was not too bad," said Kristensen, who also won at Le Mans in a BMW in 1999. "The car is running well - there are no problems. It is looking very positive regarding qualifying."

The second-fastest on the 8.625-mile Circuit de La Sarthe was the Bentley team car driven by Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell of England and David Brabham of Australia at 3:35.222. The Audi Sport UK Audi R8 driven by Frank Biela of Germany, Mika Salo of Finland and Perry McCarthy of England was third-fastest on the day at 3:37.076. Biela is a three-time Le Mans winner and won at Sebring earlier this year in ALMS competition.

ADT Champion Racing, which will run the full American Le Mans Series schedule with its Audi R8, was fourth-fastest on Wednesday with a lap of 3:37.316. Emanuele Pirro of Italy, the 2001 ALMS champion, was behind the wheel for the fast lap. He will co-drive with JJ Lehto of Finland and Stefan Johanson of Sweden. All are former Le Mans winners, with Pirro winning the past three years co-driving with Kristensen and Biela.

“It was a good night with only a couple of minor problems which were easily solved,” said Pirro. “I am also quite happy with my qualifying time – although I am determined to improve it tomorrow if the weather stays dry.” Pirro, Lehto and Johansson finished second at Sebring in March driving for the Florida-based team.

Among other American Le Mans Series teams, the Panoz LMP01 of JML Team Panoz was eighth-fastest on the day with the fast lap set by Olivier Beretta of Monaco. He will co-drive with Max Papis of Italy and Gunnar Jeannette of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“The qualifying run was pretty good but I did get a bit of traffic at the end of the lap,” said Beretta, a former Le Mans winner in the GTS class. “Regardless, qualifying for a 24-hour race is not so important as making sure the race setup is very good.”

Also in the top Prototype class, the Riley & Scott Racing R&S MkIIIC-Ford of Jim Matthews of Boca Raton, Fla., Marc Goossens of Belgium and Christophe Tinseau of France was 13th-fastest and the second JML Team Panoz machine was 15th. Scott Maxwell of Canada, David Saelens of Belgium and Benjamin Leuenberger of Switzerland will drive.

Two ALMS teams are entered in the LMP 675 class and both had mechanical problems on Wednesday. Despite losing an engine, the Intersport Racing Lola EX257-MG of Jon Field of Dublin, Ohio, Rick Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif., and Duncan Dayton of West Salem, N.Y., was second-fastest in the Prototype 675 class and 17th overall.

The Team Bucknum Racing Pilbeam MP91 of Bryan Willman of Kirkland, Wash., Chris McMurry of Phoenix and Jeff Bucknum of Lake Havasu City, Az., was sixth in the class for smaller, less-powerful Prototypes.

The GTS and GT classes were dominated by American Le Mans Series teams, with the Ferrari vs. Corvette battle in the GTS class expected to be one of the highlights of the 24 hours of racing. The four cars that will also battle in ALMS competition the rest of the year swept four of the top five spots in the GTS class.

Tomas Enge of the Czech Republic set a blistering lap of 3:53.278 in the Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello early in the second session to lead the GTS class in a car he will share with Peter Kox of The Netherlands and Jamie Davies of England. Enge and Kox will be teammates when the team returns to America for the remainder of the ALMS season beginning with the Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta June 27-29.

The Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C5-R driven by Oliver Gavin was second-fastest in the GTS class at 3:55.613, a time set near the end of the first session. Gavin will co-drive with Kelly Collins of Corona del Mar, Calif., and Andy Pilgrim of Aventura, Fla. “The engineers told me we would be able to do something in the low 3:56 times and I was happy to get into the 3:55 range during the first qualifying session tonight,” said Gavin, who co-drove a Vette to the GTS class win last year with Ron Fellows of Canada and Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga. “

The second Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari driven by Anthony Davidson, Kelvin Burt and Darren Turner was third at 3:56.267. The team Corvette driven by Fellows, O’Connell and Franck Freon of France was fifth-fastest in the GTS class. Konrad Motorsport, also a regular American Le Mans series team, was sixth in the GTS class with a Saleen S7R, while ALMS regular Carsport America overcame some problems with its Pagani Zonda machine to post a qualifying time for 10th in class.

In the GT class, the top five teams were all American Le Mans Series regular teams, led by the Alex Job Racing/Petersen Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RS driven by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr of Germany, the 2002 ALMS GT driving co-champions, and Emmanuel Collard of France. The top time of 4:07.996 barely edged the 4:08.105 turned by The Racers Group Porsche, driven by Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister of Germany and team owner Kevin Buckler of Sonoma, Calif.

“We had some minor adjustments to make and then the car is reasonable but not perfect,” said Maassen. “We’ve got some things to do and luckily we have some time to work on it.”

Third-fastest in GT was the Orbit Racing Porsche driven by Marc Leib of Germany, Leo Hindery of New York City and Peter Baron of Deerfield Beach, Fla., followed by the PK Sport Porsche of Robin Liddell, David Warnock and Piers Masarati. The Risi Competizione Ferrari 360 Modena was fifth, co-driven by Anthony Lazzaro of Acworth, Ga., Ralf Kelleners of Germany and Terry Borcheller of Phoenix.

Other ALMS teams in the GT class included Seikel Motorsport, seventh-fastest with drivers Tony Burgess and David Shep of Canada and John Lloyd of Boston, Mass.

TOUGH TIME FOR LMP 675 TEAMS: It was a difficult day for the two LMP 675 teams from the American Le Mans Series that are in France for their respective debuts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Ohio-based Intersport Racing Lola-MG lost an engine in the first session of the evening after setting what turned out to be the second-fastest class speed of the day. It was déjà vu for the team, which also lost a great deal of track time in the May testing session at Le Mans due to engine problems.

The team made an engine change in just under three hours, a miraculous fete, and managed to return to the track with 15 minutes left in track time for the day. However, the car rolled to a stop between the Arnage Corner and the Porsche Curves due to an electrical connection that was displaced during the engine change.

The Team Bucknum Racing Pilbeam MP91, based in Arizona, won three races on the ALMS in the LMP 675 class to earn an invitation to Le Mans. However, the team struggled in the first session, with a spin at the first of the Ford chicanes. Early in the third hour, Willman had an off due to a problem with brake bias. Then, after drastically improving its speed in the second session, the car had a failure while Willman was at the wheel and oiled the track at the Indianapolis section, bringing out a red flag.

BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR HINDERY: Leo Hindery takes advantage of time zones and electronics to manage his duties as CEO of the YES Network in New York and also prepare for the race. He receives a 40-page fax each day, detailing YES business that needs attention. He can reply by e-mail and fax early in the day, then turn to racing, and return to business by mobile phone at day's end in France. "It's better here than racing on the east coast in the U.S., where the business day and race day match exactly. That's extremely difficult," he said. "But there comes a point at every race where you have to separate the two. About an hour before we go on track, I've learned to shut the phone off, shut it all off, and focus on racing." Hindery drives the Orbit Racing Porsche, a car based in Jupiter, Fla.

QUICK NOTES: Kevin Buckler, driver and owner for The Racers Group Porsche team, had an off-course excursion early in the first session that saw him in the gravel trap at the entrance to the Porsche Curves. The Sonoma, Calif., team won the GT class in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as two ALMS races …. The Riley & Scott Racing Prototype, based in Indianapolis, suffered some damage in the second hour of qualifying practice when Marc Goossens spun the car. The team also had a starter failure then ultimately had a blown engine during the fourth hour …. The PK Sport Porsche suffered damage in an on-track collision with a Prototype during the third hour of practice …. The Corvette driven by Ron Fellows suffered light damage when it went into the tire barrier at the Tetre Rouge corner in the third hour. Fellows described a “lift effect” when a faster Prototype approached him from behind, upsetting the aerodynamics on the car and sending him off the track. Fellows drove the car back to the pits.


NOTE: Complete rundown of qualifying practice times for all 50 cars available at http://www.lemans.org/2003/24auto/pages/classements_gb.shtml.
 

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