Photo by John Thawley LEXINGTON, OHIO — Veteran Adrian Fernandez, a two-time winner at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, turned in an impressive qualifying run for Acura Friday in preparations for Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge, the seventh race in the 12-event American Le Mans Series.

Fernandez drove his No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura Lola B06/40 prototype to the third starting position for Saturday's two-hour, 45-minute sports car contest, set for 3:15 p.m. (EDT) on the 2.25-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio road circuit. Fernandez, who captured the 1998 Champ Car race and last year's Grand Am sports-car event at Mid-Ohio, kept the pressure on the Penske Porsches during the 20-minute qualifying session. Fernandez was one of only three drivers to break the 69-second barrier, with a time of one minute, 8.973 seconds.

Timo Bernhard won the pole in the Penske Porsche at 1:08.516 with Sasha Maassen second at 1:08.755 in the sister Porsche.

Fernandez threw down the gauntlet early in qualifying with impressive clockings in his Lowe's Acura as he drove quicker with each lap, going from 1:09.693 to 1:09.527 to 1:09.295 to 1:08.973. Adrian tried one final lap to break up the Porsche front row but he ran out of time when the checkered flag flew.

Stefan Johansson drove the No. 9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a to the sixth starting spot with a 1:09.677 as the Highcroft team did a superb job in repairing the car after co-driver David Brabham was hit during a practice session by a Ferrari that had lost its brakes. The team repaired front suspension, bodywork and the floor.

Bryan Herta ended up seventh in the starting grid with the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a, with a time of 1:09.832. The Andretti Green team also had to make repairs Friday after an under tray on the prototype sports car came apart during the afternoon practice session.

Saturday's American Le Mans Series race will be telecast Sunday at 2 p.m. (EDT) on CBS-TV.


ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola 06/40): /strong>"I was proud of Luis (Diaz) and the whole Lowe's Acura team. At the end, I thought I had a chance to get into the front row but I had a down shifting problem on the final lap. I was already a tenth and half quicker on the final lap, but I didn't get another lap. It is a good result. The Porsches are still strong but I think we are catching up. We should have a good car for the Acura Challenge."

STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "The car was very good after the crew worked hard to get it ready for the afternoon. David (Brabham) got hit by a car and we lost a whole practice session today. That makes it hard for us to catch up with some of the other teams. AGR had the same problem in the afternoon. The series is so competitive that you can't lose any time on the track. But we have a good car for the race and I enjoyed driving at Mid-Ohio. I think David and I will be competitive Saturday."

BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "Obviously we're disappointed to qualify seventh, our worst qualifying effort of the year. We just got set back a little bit with the accident in the last practice session. We lost the track time and never got the chance to run sticker tires in practice. Because of that, we didn't really know what the XM Satellite Radio Acura was going to do. Once we put the sticker tires on, we didn't really have the balance quite right. We can address it for tomorrow. It's a long race.


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