Minassian, Creation Motorsports Take Petit Le Mans Pole + Grid


Nic Minassian on track in his P1 (LMP1).
Courtesy of the American Le Mans Series

Nic Minassian definitely has found a comfort zone racing in the American Le Mans Series. Minassian earned his second Series pole position in three career events, taking the top spot in qualifying for the ninth-annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda CX-7 on Friday at Road Atlanta.

Minassian posted a time of 1:10.829 in the Judd-powered Creation Autosportif entry to best the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI of Allan McNish by a razor-thin 0.081 seconds. Minassian's first appearance in the Series came at Petit Le Mans in 2004, qualifying second overall.

"The more poles the better. It's great," said Minassian, who will team with Jamie Campbell-Walter and Harold Primat in the No. 88 entry for Saturday's race. "The American ambience is always great. The competition is very tough and when you are able to beat the Audi it's very special. They are the best in sports cars right now."

McNish held the top spot for much of the first half of the session before Minassian got the green light. The Creation car has been fast all weekend, heightening expectations for Saturday's 1,000-mile/10-hour classic. The top five cars were within 0.58 seconds of each other. Third on the grid will be another European entry - the Zytek 06S of Stefan Johansson, Johnny Mowlem and Haruki Kurosawa.

"Coming here is always a pleasure. The racing is great," Minassian said. "We're not even thinking of doing anything crazy in Turn 1. It's a long race."

The leading LMP2 entry Friday came in the form of Lucas Luhr in the No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder. Luhr, the class championship co-leader with teammate Sascha Maassen, turned in a lap of 1:11.409, a bit more than 0.2 seconds better than the No. 6 sister car of Maassen, Timo Bernhard and Emmanuel Collard.

"A pole is great," said Luhr, who is teaming with Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller. "It's always nice to start the race with a pole position, especially a long-distance race because you start with less cars in front of you so there are less problems with traffic. So now the goal is to gets the maximum points possible since the battle for LMP2 is so close. We're going to focus o­n finishing and then o­n to Laguna."

The Intersport Racing Lola of Jon Field, Clint Field and Liz Halliday will start third in class. Halliday and Clint Field are locked in a tight battle with Maassen and Luhr.This is Penske's first appearance at Road Atlanta after delaying its debut last season. So far, it looks like the Porsche factory team wants to make up for missing the 2005 race in a big way.

"Last year we thought, 'OK, now we have to face the Porsche not coming out', and you expect from a Porsche that you come out to a race track and it performs," Luhr said. "We tested a lot and we didn't have the confidence for a 10 hour race and decided to skip it and debut it at Laguna and we were victorious so we were right. And then this year we saw it still have a bit of problems that were small but big o­n paper. It's great to see this car is already successful since it has started o­n paper."

Johnny O'Connell made himself feel at home o­n his home track again with his second career GT1 pole for Corvette Racing. The resident of nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., turned in a lap of 1:18.210 in the No. 3 Corvette C6.R to take the top spot in class by 0.25 seconds over teammate Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 sister car. O'Connell's last class pole came coincidentally at Road Atlanta last spring.

"I love qualifying anywhere. It's fun," he said. "One of the keys of being a good sports car racer is keeping your ego out. At Panoz, Jan Magnussen and I were pretty equal over a stint but he could drive o­n lap like a son of a gun. Ron (Fellows) is the same way, but we're more interested in wins."

There have been quite a number of those in O'Connell's stellar career. He, Fellows and Maassen each have 25 to rank second in Series history. To get to No. 26, Fellows and O'Connell (along with driving mate Max Papis) will have to end Aston Martin's run of four class wins in the last five rounds. The two DBR9s were within 0.649 seconds of O'Connell's lead Corvette o­n Friday.

"Today was luck. Anytime you out qualify Oliver Gavin, you've done well," O'Connell said. "I've been pleased with my driving the past couple of years, and I think I've been doing well this year. I o­nly went three tenths quicker today than the Astons yesterday o­n full tanks. Everyone at GM is working so hard, and we're going to go in tomorrow and work as hard as we can."

Ralf Kelleners' return to the Series has continued to go well as he put the No. 62 Ferrari F430GT from Risi Competizione o­n the GT2 class pole, his first in the American Le Mans Series. Kelleners' time of 1:22.422 was 0.123 seconds better than the Porsche of Jorg Bergmeister and Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing.This marks the fourth pole position this season for the Ferrari - fifth if the pole start from the rained-out Mosport race is included.

"We have quite a good car," said Kelleners, who will drive with Stephane Ortelli and Markus Palttala "We a have a quick car and a good race car. That's more of an important point over nine hours. We can all do comfortable times in the car. The engineers have the car under control. We have speed. I'm a little bit surprised where the Porsches came from. In practices they were quite a bit behind us, but they know how to qualify and they certainly know how to compete in a race."

The No. 61 sister car of Anthony Lazzaro, Maurizio Mediani and Marino Franchitti qualified third. Risi Competizione trails Flying Lizard Motorsports by 2 points in the class team championship heading into the weekend. All this despite having nine different team drivers this season due to scheduling conflicts.

"The car is perfect. Nothing is going to break as far as I think," said Kelleners. "It never has. Ferrari has built a good car, so we'll have no problems there. It is better if you have the same drivers all year long so you can fit the car to those two drivers, and it's easier for the engineers. This weekend, Stefan has raced the last two races, and he's pretty new. Markus is new and I haven't been here for quite awhile. You have to find a quiet way of working."

The 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda CX-7, Round 9 of the American Le Mans Series, is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. EDT o­n Saturday, September 30. The race will be broadcast live o­n SPEED Channel from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT and 3 to 10 p.m. EDT with MotorsTV providing live coverage in Europe. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA Live Timing & Scoring.

Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda CX-7
Road Atlanta, Braselton, Ga.
Saturday's lineup

1. Nic Minassian, England; Harold Primat, Switzerland; Jamie Campbell-Walter, England; Creation CA06/H-01 Judd (P1), 1:10.829, 129.10
2. Rinaldo Capello, Italy; Allan McNish, Scotland; Audi R10 TDI Power (P1), 1:10.910, 128.95
3. Stefan Johansson, Sweden; Johnny Mowlem, England; Haruki Kurosawa, Japan; Zytek 06S (P1), 1:11.090, 128.63
4. Emmanuelle Pirro, Italy; Frank Biela, Germany; Marco Werner, Germany; Audi R10 TDI Power (P1), 1:11.372, 128.12
5. Lucas Luhr, Germany; Romain Dumas, France; Mike Rockenfeller, Germany; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:11.409, 128.05
6. Sascha Maassen, Germany; Timo Bernhard, Germany; Emmanuel Collard, France; Porsche RS Spyder (P2), 1:11.631, 127.65
7. Butch Leitzinger, State College, PA; Andy Wallace, England; James Weaver, England; Lola B06/10 AER (P1), 1:11.738, 127.46
8. Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, England; Lola B06/10 AER (P1), 1:12.007, 126.99
9. Duncan Dayton, North Salem, NY; Memo Gidley, San Rafael, CA; Vitor Meira, Brazil; Lola EX257 AER (P1), 1:12.316, 126.45
10. Liz Halliday, Rancho Santa Fe, CA; Clint Field, Dublin, OH; Jon Field, Dublin, OH; Lola B05/40 AER (P2), 1:13.396, 124.58

11. Gunnar Van der Steur, Chesapeake City, MD; Ben Devlin, England; Tim Greaves, England; Radical SR 9 AER (P2), 1:13.533, 124.35
12. Chris McMurry, Phoenix, AZ; Michael Lewis, San Diego, CA; Michael Lewis, San Diego, CA; Lola EX257 AER (P1), 1:13.772, 123.95
13. Fredy Lienhard Sr., Switzerland; Didier Theys, Belgium; Eric van de Poele, Belgium; Lola B05/40 Judd (P2), 1:15.767, 120.69
14. Ron Fellows, Canada; Johnny O`Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Max Papis, Italy; Corvette C6.R (GT1), 1:18.210, 116.92
15. Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Oliver Gavin, England; Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Corvette C6.R (GT1), 1:18.460, 116.54
16. Pedro Lamy, Portugal; Stephane Sarrazin, France; Aston Martin DBR9 (GT1), 1:18.547, 116.41
17. Jamie Bach, West Palm Beach, FL; Guy Cosmo, Long Island, NY; Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Sherrils Ford, NC; Courage C65 Mazda (P2), 1:18.710, 116.17
18. Darren Turner, England; Tomas Enge, Czech Republic; Aston Martin DBR9 (GT1), 1:18.859, 115.95
19. Stephane Ortelli, Monaco; Ralf Kelleners, Germany; Markus Palttala, Finland; Ferrari 430 GT Berlinetta (GT2), 1:22.422, 110.94
20. Patrick Long, Oak Park, CA; Jorg Bergmeister, Germany; Nic Jonsson, Sweden; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:22.545, 110.78

21. Anthony Lazzaro, Acworth, GA; Maurizio Mediani, Italy; Marino Franchitti, Scotland; Ferrari 430 GT Berlinetta (GT2), 1:22.749, 110.50
22. Scott Maxwell, Canada; David Brabham, Australia; Sebastien Bourdais, France; Panoz Esperante GTLM (GT2), 1:23.070, 110.08
23. Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, CA; Boris Said, Carlsbad, CA; BMW E46 M3 (GT2), 1:23.092, 110.05
24. Gunnar Jeannette, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; Tom Milner, Leesburg, VA; Andy Lally, New York, NY; Panoz Esperante GTLM (GT2), 1:23.149, 109.97
25. Marc Lieb, Germany; Johannes van Overbeek, San Francisco, CA; Wolf Henzler, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:23.151, 109.97
26. Seth Neiman, Burlingame, CA; Lonnie Pechnik, Pacific Grove, CA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:23.294, 109.78
27. Justin Marks, Sacramento, CA; Bryan Sellers, Centerville, OH; Ian James, England; BMW E46 M3 (GT2), 1:23.307, 109.76
28. Marcel Tiemann, Germany; Dominik Farnbacher, Germany; Robin Liddell, Scotland; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (GT2), 1:23.514, 109.49