Photo by John Thawley Romain Dumas is a quick learner. Despite seeing the St. Petersburg street circuit only a handful of times before qualifying Friday, he nonetheless earned pole position for the American Le Mans Series' Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg as Penske Motorsports took the front row for Saturday's race.
The French Porsche factory pilot turned in a lap of 1:03.039 in one of Penske's Porsche RS Spyders. He was 0.150 seconds ahead of teammate Ryan Briscoe in the sister car with the LMP2 entries sweeping the front row for the first time since last July at Lime Rock.
Dumas was the fastest qualifier there as well. On Friday he was 0.376 seconds better than Audi's Allan McNish, the best of the LMP1 drivers. Three Acura-powered entries, led by Adrian Fernandez and the Acura-powered Lola for Lowe's Fernandez Racing, were third through fifth in P2 and fourth through sixth on the overall grid.
"We are much closer in performance on the street circuit to the P1 cars," said Dumas, who now owns 11 career Series pole positions and will drive with Timo Bernhard on Saturday. "One of the best fights I had was last year at Lime Rock. We are better in the slow sections and they are better on the straights so we have to be careful."
Dumas was set to get his first taste of St. Petersburg's 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit in Friday morning's first practice but watched as the session was halted due to a late crash involving one of the GT2 cars. As a result he had less than 10 laps under his belt when his crew told him he would be qualifying.
Somewhat hesitant at first, Dumas nonetheless made the most of the chance. After watching Briscoe and McNish turn in times well down into the 1:03 range, he needed just two laps to post his best effort.
"When I heard Allan's and Ryan's lap times I thought it was going to be tough but we were going to go for it," Dumas said. "So we did and I am very happy."
He certainly impressed McNish, the fastest driver in the practice session immediately before qualifying. After watching Dumas overtake him on the timing chart, McNish pushed too hard in his diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI and missed his braking point coming into Turn 8. With the wheels locked up, the car spun and impacted a tire wall with the rear wing.
"The morning session for us was learning the session and we didn't find a connection with the car," McNish said. "But it came to us this afternoon and I started attacking. I was pushing for the front row and tried to get the gap back. I didn't and ran out of road. There's not much damage. A little bit of bodywork, the floor and the particle filter."
McNish was 0.7 seconds ahead of Marco Werner in Audi Sport North America's other diesel-powered entry. The Scot, teaming again this year with Rinaldo Capello, said he wasn't surprised that the P2 cars were showing so well on the tight street circuit.
"Romain's time certainly was impressive," McNish added. "The P2 cars are lighter and more agile, which is very important especially if you get into some of the tight corners behind the GT cars.
Olivier Beretta put Corvette Racing's No. 4 Corvette C6.R on the GT1 pole with a lap of 1:09.531 to edge out teammate Johnny O'Connell by 0.681 seconds. It gives Beretta 19 career pole positions, the most in Series history and three more than Corvette Racing legend Ron Fellows.
Beretta and Oliver Gavin will start 13th overall, right beside O'Connell and teammate Jan Magnussen.
"Every street race is different with different challenges," said Beretta, owner of two street course wins in the Series. "The car was very quick right off the pace and we did two or three laps before we were comfortable. The Michelin tires and the whole crew did a great job."
Beretta was born in Monaco, more specifically at the famed street venue's first turn. As a result he always has had an affectionate spot for them. Friday's performance did nothing to spoil that.
"It's quite a different challenge than Sebring, Road America or Road Atlanta," he said. "You know you cannot put the wheels to the wall or you will pay very hard."
In GT2, Tomas Enge followed up his stellar times in Friday's two practice sessions with a class pole position for Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing. The Czech star, who competed in the IRL's race here two years ago, turned in a lap of 1:12.025 in the Ferrari F430 GT he will share with Tim Bergmeister to best Jaime Melo of Risi Competizione by 0.221 seconds.
"It was good fun then and it's good fun now," Enge said. "The track is quite challenging. There are places that are more slippery than others so you have to be careful where you push. Everything went well since this morning and we have always been in front. We didn't change much on the car during the day."
Friday's result puts Ferraris 1-2 on the grid followed by four Porsches. Tafel Racing's Robin Liddell was the best of the 911 GT3 RSRs at 1:12.238 as the top four cars were within a second of each other. Two weeks ago at Sebring, Melo and Ferrari beat Flying Lizard Motorsports' Jörg Bergmeister and Porsche by just 0.202 seconds in the closest finish in the race's 55-year history.
Given the speeds and close quarters expected in a street event, another last-lap battle could be in the works for Saturday. It all depends on the traffic and passing," Enge said.
"Turn 1 will be good to overtake although the inside line isn't as grippy as the outside," he added. "It will be all up to the overtaking prototype and GT cars. I hope these guys will be cautious although I'm surprised the Porsches and Audis are nine seconds faster than us on such a short track."
The Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg is Round 2 of the 2007 American Le Mans Series. The race will start at 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 31. SPEED will provide a same-day broadcast event from 8 to 11 p.m. MotorsTV in Europe, SPEED Latin America and 7TV in Russia will carry the race live. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.
Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Saturday's starting lineup
1. Romain Dumas, France; Timo Bernhard, Germany; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:03.039, 102.79
2. Sascha Maassen, Germany; Ryan Briscoe, Australia; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:03.189, 102.55
3. Rinaldo Capello, Italy; Allan McNish, Scotland; Audi AG/R10/TDI (P1), 1:03.415, 102.18
4. Adrian Fernandez, Mexico; Luis Diaz, Mexico; Lola/B06-43/Acura (P2), 1:03.432, 102.16
5. Bryan Herta, Valencia, CA; Marino Franchitti, Scotland; Acura/ARX-01a (P2), 1:03.746, 101.65
6. David Brabham, Australia; Stefan Johansson, Sweden; Duncan Dayton, North Salem, NY; Acura/ARX-01a (P2), 1:03.807, 101.56
7. Emanuele Pirro, Italy; Marco Werner, Germany; Audi AG/R10/TDI (P1), 1:04.139, 101.03
8. Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, England; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:04.376, 100.66
9. Andy Wallace, England; Butch Leitzinger, State College, PA; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:04.845, 99.93
10. Chris McMurry, Phoenix, AZ; Bryan Willman, Kirkland, WA; Michael Lewis, San Diego, CA; Lola/EX257 AER (P1), 1:08.536, 94.55
11. Richard Berry, Evergreen, CO; Jon Field, Dublin, OH; Clint Field, Dublin, OH; Creation/CA06H/Judd (P1), 1:08.844, 94.13
12. Ben Devlin, England; Raphael Matos, Brazil; Jamie Bach, West Palm Beach, FL; Lola/B07-40/Mazda (P2), 1:08.991, 93.93
13. Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Oliver Gavin, England; Corvette C6.R (GT1), 1:09.531, 93.20
14. Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Corvette C6.R (GT1), 1:10.212, 92.29
15. Tim Bergmeister, Germany; Tomas Enge, Czech Republic; Ferrari 430GT (GT2), 1:12.025, 89.97
16. Mika Salo, Finland; Jaime Melo, Brazil; Ferrari 430GT Berlinetta (GT2), 1:12.246, 89.69
17. Wolf Henzler, Germany; Robin Liddell, Scotland; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:12.738, 89.09
18. Jim Tafel, Alpharetta, GA; Dominik Farnbacher, Germany; Porsche 911
GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:12.937, 88.84
19. Johannes van Overbeek, San Francisco, CA; Jorg Bergmeister, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:13.217, 88.50
20. Lonnie Pechnik, Pacific Grove, CA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche
911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:13.438, 88.24
21. Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, CA; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; Panoz Esperante GTLM (GT2), 1:13.440, 88.24
22. Terry Borcheller, Gainesville, GA; Marc Basseng, Germany; Tim Pappas, Boston, MA; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:14.400, 87.10
23. Scott Maxwell, Canada; Bryan Sellers, Centerville, OH; Ross Smith, Plano, TX; Panoz Esperante GTLM (GT2), 1:17.622, 83.48
24. Nic Jonsson, Sweden; Jose Maria Lopez, Argentina; Ferrari 430GT Berlinetta (GT2), No Time
25. Ralf Kelleners, Germany; Tom Milner, Leesburg, VA; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), No Time.