It seems fitting that the two Audi R18s should start from the front of the field for the final American Le Mans Series Twelve Hours of Sebring. Since the series started sanctioning the race in 1999, Audi has won ten times.
Barring a tremendous amount of bad luck—at least some of which is almost certain to strike in twelve hours of racing, but most of which Audi can handle—the factory team is likely to win its eleventh tomorrow.
Marcel Fässler put the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro diesel/electric hybrid on the pole for tomorrow’s Twelve Hours, lapping the 3.74-mile track in 1:43.886, an new qualifying record (Audi owned the old record as well.) It was Fässler’s first attempt at qualifying on Sebring’s bumpy airport runways; obviously he is a quick study.
Three-time Sebring winner Allan McNish also broke the old qualifying record, but he was .009 seconds slower than his team mate.
“It was really tight battle for the pole. I am really happy,” Fässler told the post-race press conference.
“My car was really great already yesterday so I knew that I could do it. It was my first qualifying at Sebring. As everyone knows, Sebring is not the easiest track to go for a quick lap, really bumpy and everything. Every little mistake will cost you time. You have to do a really clean lap without any mistakes.
“I had a really good lap, but it was really tight with Allan, only nine thousandths of a second. Being first is really cool.”
Rebellion’s Nick Heidfeld qualified third, 2.57 seconds of Fässler’s pace—an eon when each lap is less than two minutes. If the Audis run at that pace they will gain one lap in every 24 laps and would be a dozen or more laps ahead by the end of twelve hours.
Muscle Milk’s Klaus Graf qualified fourth, only two hundredths behind Heidfeld.
In P2 Ryan Briscoe won the class pole for Level 5 Motorsports with a lap of 1:51.159. His team mate Ryan Hunter Reay took second in class, .11 seconds behind.
“It’s good and great to be back in Sebring—last time was back in 2008,” Briscoe told the assembled reporters. “I‘ve been missing the race, watching it every year.
“It’s awesome, all the guys at Level 5 and HPD-Honda have been working their butts off, especially with the last-minute decision to come here with two cars—it’s been a thrash. We’ve actually been here at the track since last Friday and working really hard so it’s really satisfying to see the preparation pay off when the two drivers are going head-to-head for the pole.
Briscoe and Hunter-Reay are rivals in the IndyCar series; Briscoe said that rivalry came out in qualifying.
“It felt like a normal battle with Hunter-Reay for the pole; they’ll give me a lap time and say, ‘You need a tenth of a second.’” It was great.
“I love this track, I love these cars. Pretty happy to be starting the race for the team with a 1–2.”
Risi Competizione is back with the ALMS after taking a year off, and to celebrate Gianmaria Bruni put the team’s #62 Ferrari on the GTE pole with a lap of 1:58.815. GTE will be a fierce battle if qualifying is any indication: the top eight cars are within a second of Bruni’s time.
Oliver Gavin in the #4 Corvette and Stefan Mücke in the #97 Aston Martin are second and third in GTE, .12 and .18 seconds back from Bruni respectively.
“It was a very close battle, it always is in GT,” Bruni said. “This is very challenging for qualifying.
“It is great to be back with Risi after a one year break—all the work paid off for this qualifying for sure today. Tomorrow is another day, but today we reached our goal.
“I don’t know what makes me so successful. I like this circuit since my first time I was here in 2008. I’ve always liked it. I don’t know, I like the bumpy circuit, it makes it a bit difficult for everyone, not just easy.
“Three poles in a row with Risi, It was fantastic run, I made a few mistakes in [turns] 2 and 3, then I backed off a lap, but got back on it the following lap. We had a clear track, no traffic, the perfect conditions for qualifying.”
Colin Braun driving for two-time champions Core Autosport took the pole in the PC class, and Andy Lally captured the GTC pole for the brand-new Dempsey/Del Piero Racing team.
The 61st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring starts Saturday, March 16, at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are still available at the gate or via Sebring Raceway.com.
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