Tafel/Bell Micro Racing to Start ....

in Lime Rock GT2 Battle; No. 73 Damaged in Practice

Yesterday's first appearance of Tafel Racing and the American Le Mans Series at the newly configured Lime Rock (Conn.) Park was as brutal as advertised.

Following the two, one hour-long practice sessions and the 20-minute time trial, the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC sat third in the GT2 field while the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC sat in the paddock being repaired. Dirk Müller (a native of Germany living in Monaco) turned a lap of 54.824 seconds in qualifying around the 1.51-mile, ten-turn facility to place himself and partner Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) on the inside of the GT2 grid's second row.

The No. 73 did not make a qualifying attempt after being damaged just prior to qualifying in the second practice session. Driver Alex Figge (Denver, Col.) and a Le Mans Prototype (LMP1) made contact entering the front straightaway and was forced into the tire barrier. Figge was taken to a local hospital for x-rays on his left foot. The x-rays returned negative and he is expected to compete in the event. The No. 73 Figge shares with Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) is expected to have repairs complete in time for tomorrow's 2:05 PM (ET) start.

The new track configuration, which includes a new chicane, new pavement and new concrete curbing, made for a challenging day for the competitors in all classes. For the road car-based GT2 field, their sub- one minute lap times were nearly eight seconds slower than the LMP entries. The narrow track and quick closing rates between cars made for multiple red flags during the practice sessions. The No. 73 was forced off track mid-way through the second practice session with Figge behind the wheel. Figge's passenger side door was cracked in the incident that then pushed him into the tire barrier as the cars led- onto the front straightaway. The tire wall did further damage to the nose and headlight assembly on the driver's side of the car. Figge reported his left side sore from the impact. He also complained of left foot pain. Track and IMSA medical crews examined Figge and recommended he visit the hospital for x-rays. The team is awaiting word of his final prognosis to determine a strategy for tomorrow's two hour and 45- minute event.

 The No. 71 had the passenger-side mirror torn-away when an LMP2 car went to overtake Müller later in the second session. Few cars left the track without some sort of damage.

In qualifying, Müller started strong with a quick lap. However, that lap was disallowed by race officials for shortcutting the turn-seven chicane. Shortcuts of that turn would play a major role in the day's activities as several cars were determined to have shaved time off in the area. As Müller continued to turn laps, rain began to fall on portions, but not all, of the track. He would turn the Bell Micro Ferrari's fastest lap on the 13th circuit of the course. A dramatic, and uncommon, call for fuel on lap 14 would give the 2000 American Le Mans Series GT2 Champion six more laps on track. Müller neared his best lap on his penultimate circuit. However, as he entered the last sequence of turns on his final lap, Müller came upon a slower GT2 competitor. With no room to pass, the lap, which the German expected to be his best, was forfeited. The Lap 13 time would stand as the qualifying effort.

The American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix on SPEED Channel starting at Noon (ET), Sunday, July 13. Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at AmericanLeMans.com.

QuotesJim Tafel, Owner/Driver, No. 73: "Number one is that Alex is OK. It will be a lot of work but we can put the car back together. It is just too bad. It takes away time to setup our car. We didn't get quite where we wanted to be in qualifying with the 71 Bell Micro car. It is going to be a race of attrition though. I hope the drivers' meeting we had will help sort these matters out. There will be incidents but I hope we can keep them to a minimum."

Tony Dowe, Technical Director: "I am happy and disappointed in equal measure. I am happy with the result for the team but disappointed in the track and the subjective decision making with regard to people who were allowed to cut turn seven and get away with it and others that had lap times taken away. I am not necessarily referring to us. There was a great deal of subjectivity to it from where we sat and that really is not a good way for racing to be administered. The car is very consistent, it is quick. We have a little bit of understeer to still dial out which is not so difficult. Both drivers are looking good. From that point of view it is looking good."

Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "We wish we were starting in the top two or even the pole but three is a very good starting position. The Lizard cars, which are just ahead of us in the championship, are starting behind us in the race and the two cars that are in front of us on the grid are further down in the points. The race will be long tomorrow. There will be a lot of position changes and I think it is a survival game. The cars that survive tomorrow will be on the podium and the ones that take too much risk will be looking up to us at the end."

Alex Figge, Driver, No. 73: "I'd like to see the video. I feel like it was a late move on his part but the situation, with this many cars on this size track, is very difficult for a GT2 driver."

Dirk Müller, Driver, No. 71: "It was close and very difficult. I really enjoyed doing it today. It was difficult due to the weather conditions. In the beginning it was really raining in some parts. I was very near to switching on the wiper. Nevertheless, that made it very complicated and very greasy. Finally, at the end it got very quick. I needed a lot of laps to build-up the heat in my tires because we are basically using the race setup. It is a little bit of a pity. We changed the car and it got better at the end. On my final lap I got caught behind the Viper but there is no blame for anything. That is just the way it is. Looking forward to tomorrow, we have already lost the mirror. That means it is going to be very, very tough. At the moment I think the LMP cars think they are the strong muscle cars but I hope they think a little different tomorrow to make this race happen."

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