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Fernandez Lands ALMS Pole

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, April 17 2010

Adrian Fernandez rolled to the pole of the American Le Mans Series race on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the Patron American Le Mans Series)

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Adrian Fernandez captured his first overall pole position in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón with a lap of 1:13.213 (96.770 mph) in Aston Martin Racing’s Lola-Aston Martin prototype coupe for the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach.

Fernandez, who is driving with Harold Primat, outpaced Patrón Highcroft Racing’s Simon Pagenaud by a razor-thin 0.072 seconds. Fernandez, who has 16 professional starts at Long Beach in his decorated career, needed all his experience to hold off the young Frenchman.

“This isn’t a new environment; I’ve competed here many times,” said Fernandez, who won in an LMP2 Acura here last year with Luis Diaz. “To come here with a new team and be successful is great especially. We competed last weekend at Paul Ricard and were very competitive. After being here a long time, you learn when to push and when to take care of your tires. You have to be alert and work well with your team. I expect a good race tomorrow, especially with the old LMP2s.They are a bit better on the braking but we are faster on the straights so it’ll be like the old days when we had to fight with the Audis.”

The outcome came as a bit of a surprise to even the Aston Martin Racing team. The big production-based, V12-powered prototype was supposed to struggle with its heavier weight than the LMP2-spec cars.

“I think the traffic will help us,” Fernandez said. “We were very quick through the corners last year in the LMP2s and not so fast on the straights, so in the traffic now we’ll have a bit of an advantage. It’s not a very long race so if you make a mistake you won’t get a lot of time to repair it. I’m sure there will be one or yellows so you’re going to have to have good strategy. And we’re going to have to play the strategy as it comes and see how it plays out.

“The people who make the road car have done a good job to design this car not to just look good but make it run well at Le Mans,” he said. “And the engine is very big and very heavy which is great for fourth and fifth gear corners, fast corners – not street circuits like here. So you see you have to be good about braking and taking care of the car.”

Christophe Bouchut captured his first career pole position for Level 5 Motorsports in LMP Challenge. Bouchut’s time of 1:18.588 (90.151 mph) barely nipped Gunnar Jeannette in G-Oil’s Green Earth Team Gunnar entry by 0.219 seconds.

Bouchut will team with Level 5 owner Scott Tucker, who won the inaugural LMPC race at Sebring with Mark Wilkins. Jeannette is driving with Elton Julian.

“It’s a really good feeling for sure to be on pole position especially after our first win at Sebring,” Bouchut said. “Our team did a great job. I had no problems at all during the tests. The laps were all wonderful. We had a good setup and did lap after lap. The ORECA is new but it’s got a lot of experience from the Courage (factory), and it was great to show it runs for 12 hours. We were one of the few with no problems. Even though the race will be much shorter we’ll still have to fight for every lap to stay the leader.”

This is the first race for the ORECA FLM09s on a street circuit and the first Long Beach race for a majority of drivers in the class – Bouchut among them.

“This morning when I (first went around) it, I knew I would love it,” he said. “I drive these circuits all the time – the city circuits – and here it is easy and really nice. You can push a lot; sometimes in tracks like this you have to drive slow in order to be fast in the next corner, but here you can push everywhere and be on the limit.”

JR Hildebrand qualified third in class for Genoa Racing in the FLM09 that he will drive with Tom Sutherland. Hildebrand’s best lap was a 1:19.581 (89.026 mph).

Jaime Melo won his first Long Beach pole position for Risi Competizione with a lap of 1:19.581 (89.026 mph) in the Ferrari F430 GT that he will drive with Gimmi Bruni. A winner with Mika Salo at the track in 2007, Melo finished 0.598 seconds better than Wolf Henzler in Team Falken Tire’s Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

Melo has two podium finishes in three Long Beach starts and set the fastest race lap in last year’s event. All were in the Ferrari F430 GT.

“This is a very good sign,” said Melo, who now has 16 career poles. “Qualifying here is really important. That was our target today. Long Beach has always been great for our Ferrari and this will probably be the last race here with the F430.

“Corvette Racing’s Johnny O’Connell qualified one of the team’s two Corvette C6.R third in class at 1:20.308 (88.220 mph). The top eight cars were within one second.

In the race, I think it will be much tighter than 0.5 seconds,” Melo said. “We just need to be focused and not make any mistakes. We need to do our job and give the team the best information so they can put the car in the best shape for us. That is what we have been doing.”

Andy Lally and TRG’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car moved into pole position for GT Challenge class after Black Swan Racing was excluded in post-qualifying inspections for a fuel infraction; the Black Swan Porsche had used improper fuel in qualifying.

Lally’s best lap was a 1:24.098 (84.245 mph) lap in the car that he will share with Henri Richard. TRG is back in the Series for the first time since 2005, and Lally’s lap gave the team its first pole position in the Series since team owner Kevin Buckler headed the GT class at Infineon in 2002.

“We’re coming to grips with the GT Challenge class pretty quickly,” Lally said. “We’ve shown good speed. The biggest issue is trying to stay clean in such a crowded field.”

Jeroen Bleekemolen had recorded a lap of 1:23.857 (84.487 mph) in the Black Swan car that he’ll share with team owner Tim Pappas. The Dutch pilot, a winner of two Porsche Supercup titles and at Le Mans in 2008 driving a Porsche RS Spyder, was quickest in both of Friday’s practice sessions.

GMG Racing’s James Sofronas qualified second at 1:24.256 (84.087 mph). He will drive with Bret Curtis. Next up was Alex Job Racing’s Butch Leitzinger, who will drive with Juan Gonzalez, after a lap of 1:24.288 (84.055 mph).

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, April 17 2010
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