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De Ferran Has Big Day At Road America

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 15 2009
Gil de Ferran set the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s practice session for the Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Road America. He then went on to win the pole in the afternoon. (American Le Mans Series photo)

Gil de Ferran set the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s practice session for the Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Road America. He then went on to win the pole in the afternoon. (American Le Mans Series photo)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Elkhart Lake, Wis. – While the rest of the world is all a-Twitter these days, Gil de Ferran is merely tweaking.

In his last tour as a driver, de Ferran drove to the pole at Road America on Saturday aboard his XM Acura, edging the Patron Acura of David Brabham by 0.823 seconds.

The owner of de Ferran Motorsports gave the credit to his engineers after his second straight LMP1 pole  in the ARX-02a chassis and the team’s sixth in seven American Le Mans Series starts. “The car has been fantastic since we unloaded,” said de Ferran, who averaged 134 mph in his pole-winning lap. “We’ve just been tweaking on it.”

Coming out of retirement following a decade in CART and the IRL, de Ferran got back behind the wheel to launch his own team at the request of Honda Performance Development. After a season and a half – his first in sports cars – de Ferran is again saying his final farewell to some of his favorite tracks in winning style. Last week, he won the pole at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“They just don’t make tracks like this any more,” he said of Road America’s storied swoops, straights, bends and Carousel. “I guess it’s going to be my last time here,” he added, “so it’s a great feeling.”

Highcroft Racing and Brabham had to do more than tweak its chassis and did not get close to an optimum set-up, facing double jeopardy. The Patron-sponsored car was jittery in the slower corners on the 4.0-mile track and understeered in the high-speed turns.

“We have to find a lot more speed in the car,” said Brabham of the search for grip. “We’re going to do our homework tonight and look at everything.”

In the two hour, 45-minute race, Highcroft will attempt to break de Ferran’s four-race winning streak. Brabham believes the presence of the Porsches in the Challenge class is likely to bring out full-course yellows that will play a role in the team’s search for a second victory this year. Challenge cars brought out several red flags in practice. “We have to maintain our focus be prepared to take advantage of anything that takes place tomorrow,” he said.

The pole-winning Acura’s lap of 1:48.216 was well short of the ALMS qualifying lap record of 1:46.935, set by Lucas Luhr in an Audi R10 last year.

After placing fourth in LMP1 during practice behind the Intersport Lola-AER, the Ginetta-Zytek of Corsa Motorsports did not participate in qualifying due to mechanical problems in the engine bay of  its hybrid prototype.  
Marino Franchitti scored his second career pole in LMP2 and first since Sebring in 2004. It was the first pole for the Lola-Mazda of Dyson Racing — and the first ever for the Japanese manufacturer in the ALMS. The Scotsman stayed on the track while Adrian Fernandez ran several hot laps aboard his Acura ARX-01b in an effort to grab the top spot on the LMP2 grid. He fell 0.212 seconds short.

“I thought my lap was not going to be enough,” said Franchitti. “It was a pretty scruffy lap. I think I used up the front tires in the first two corners.”

There was an upset in GT2, where the BMW M3 of the Rahal Letterman team claimed its first pole with Joey Hand at the wheel. It was hardly a fluke. Teammate Dirk Mueller was second in the production-based category, just a tenth of a second behind Hand’s lap of 2:06.950.

“I usually go in thinking the worst and hoping something good happens,” said Hand. “But I came here with a good attitude.”

The turning point for the Rahal Letterman team came in a test at Mid-Ohio in July, said Hand, due to developments with the shock absorbers in conjunction with the Dunlop tires. Known for its handling, the BMW chassis gains its edge in the middle of corners and by getting onto the long straights at a better clip.

That, said Hand, compensates for the relatively larger frontal area and drag versus the competition. “If I can gain two miles an hour versus my competition coming onto the straight, they’re going to have gain four miles an hour to pass me on the straightaway,” he said.

Working on a five-race winning streak, Joerg Bergmeister’s lap of 2:07.362 was third quickest, followed closely by the new Corvette C6.R driven by Jan Magnussen, who clocked 2:07.387.

Guy Cosmo won the pole for the Challenge class made up of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars. There are six Challenge cars in the field of 26, including five LMP1 prototypes, four LMP2 prototypes and 11 GT2 entries.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 15 2009
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