Grids 3rd on Streets of Belle Isle, No. 73 Lines-up 11th in GT2
Qualifying for the American Le Mans Series GT2 class is always a contest of tenths of a second. However, today's 20-minute qualifying session for Saturday's Detroit Sports Car Challenge set a new standard with a three-way battle and less than three-tenths of a second to determine the class pole winner.
Dirk Müller (a native of Germany now living in Monaco) drove Tafel Racing's No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC to the early standard taking the pole position with a lap more than one second quicker than his nearest competition.
However, that time would not last as, on a drying track from an earlier rain shower, another Ferrari and a Porsche joined the battle. The three swapped the class pole position four times in the last two laps. Müller, who will share the Cumming, Ga,-based machine with Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany), dropped to third with two laps remaining in the session. He re-took the top spot on the next lap with a time of one minute, 25.270 seconds on the 2.096-mile, 14-turn circuit. The No. 62 Ferrari bettered that with a time of 1:24.978 until moments later the point leading Porsche took the fastest lap just as the checkered flag waved with a time of 1:24.941. Meanwhile, Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) piloted the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC he co-drives with Alex Figge (Denver) to 11th in qualifying with a time of 1:30.694.
The weather played a critical role in today's practice and qualifying for the two hour and 45-minute race. The first practice on the temporary street course laid out on Detroit's Belle Isle was met with heavy showers. Due to its temporary nature and no testing opportunities, technical director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) had to weigh the benefits of track time for the drivers with the likelihood that the race will be run under sunny skies.
The team, which has won three races in 2008 including the only two street courses run to-date, opted to keep the two Ferraris in pit lane until only 30-minutes remained in the one hour and 30-minute session. On the drying track Farnbacher set the quickest lap in the practice. The sun shined for the hours between the day's two scheduled practice sessions but it wasn't to last. Showers returned before the second, one-hour practice session that led into qualifying. The quick cloudburst left the track wet and necessitated a return to Michelin's grooved rain tires for both the No. 71 Bell Micro Ferrari and the No. 73. Dowe called for a change to slick, dry-weather tires near the end of the second practice and Müller was able to post the session's best lap.
Qualifying came hot and humid without a cloud in the sky, a different set of circumstances than had been seen all day. Both Tafel entries remained in pit lane waiting for the final drying of the track. With 14-minutes remaining, Müller turned the second quickest time of the session on his second lap. He took pole position briefly on his fourth trip around Belle Isle. Müller's best lap was turned on the eighth circuit of his 10 laps. With no dry condition laps, Tafel came to terms with the No. 73 over 13 laps. His hot time coming on his penultimate lap.
The Detroit Sports Car Challenge can be seen live on SPEED starting at 2:30 PM (ET), August 30. XM Satellite Radio Channel 144 will broadcast the full American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast beginning at 5 PM (ET). Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the live American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at AmericanLeMans.com.
QuotesTony Dowe, Technical Director: "Qualifying was exciting. I think we had enough to get pole but with the changing conditions from the practice sessions we had a little bit too much at the rear. The rear tires came in before the fronts and hence we had a little too much understeer. That is fixable for tomorrow."
Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "We never could make a qualifying setup for the dry. Every time we went out we were fastest in the rain. When it was dry other teams could go back to their setups from last year but the Ferrari, for us, is a new car. So, we didn't know really what we had for the dry. We gambled and I think we had a pretty good setup. Third- place is very good. The race is long tomorrow and it is important to stay out of trouble. As we have seen at Long Beach and St. Petersburg is very important to stay out of trouble. If you brake late you are in the wall and if you don't look in your mirrors you have contact with the prototypes. For sure this is the hardest one to stay out of trouble. We have to stick to our position and we can't get a gap between and the [Flying] Lizards."
Dirk Müller, Driver, No. 71: "We got everything right on the second practice. We had been quickest in both the sessions. In qualifying, there was one corner still wet where you are under braking. There is some time that could be gained there if you risked a lot but it was our first try on the slick and not worth the risk. Position three is OK. I think the combination is able to do pole but it was difficult for everybody. Congratulations to Wolf [Henzler]. He obviously got a good lap. It was close. Traffic is going to be the issue in the race. We have saw it last year; lots of incidents, lots of contact. Hopefully last weekend's work will pay off this weekend."
Alex Figge, Driver, No. 73: "It was a pretty messed-up first day with the weather, especially with the program Jim and I had. It just didn't work out like we had planned it. Now, at the end of the day, I think I have eight laps at Detroit. That's the only way it was going to work out. The weather bit us a little bit. Jim did a great job not having any laps in the dry. He got much faster every lap. I'll just have to go out there and find my way around for the start of my stint. No big deal. It is a long race."
Jim Tafel, Driver, No. 73: "My confidence is really good. I couldn't get the car to turn and it started to push. That was where I left all my time. Alex and I will go and try and run a solid race and look for a good finish with the 73 Ferrari."