Level 5 Motorsports saved the best for last in qualifying for the 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, as Luis Diaz put the No. 055 Microsoft Office 2010-sponsored HPD ARX-01g on the LMP2 pole in thrilling fashion, leading a 1-3 qualifying effort for the Scott Tucker-owned organization.
Teammate Christophe Bouchut in Level 5's Intercontinental Le Mans Cup-designated No. 33 Microsoft Office 2010 HPD ARX-01g held the top spot for the majority of the 15-minute prototype session but was bumped by the No. 26 Signatech ORECA-Nissan in the closing moments. With time winding down, Bouchut was unable to respond after setting a respectable 1:12.729 lap time on the packed 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course. Diaz, however, made continual improvements in his Honda-powered prototype and completed one more flying lap just before the checkered flag flew. It ended up being the pole run for the 2009 American Le Mans Series LMP2 champion.
"It was a matter of having a clean lap," Diaz said. "The LMP1 cars didn't make our lives very easy. We were surprised because we know the speed of the Nissan, and to beat them here is very special. But the Level 5 guys did a great job with the car. They've worked around the clock in both Europe and here to prepare the cars. I think this pole is great motivation for the race."
Diaz's impressive 1:12.335 lap time was over three-tenths of a second quicker than the Nissan and puts he and co-drivers Tucker and Marino Franchitti in prime position for the win in Saturday's 1,000-mile or 10-hour endurance race. The No. 33 HPD, meanwhile, will roll off in a close third as the team pursues its second consecutive Petit Le Mans victory. Tucker and Bouchut have already locked up the LMP2 championship with wins at Long Beach, Road America and Laguna Seca. On Saturday, the pair will be joined by Portuguese ace Joao Barbosa.
"I was not expecting to be in third, to be honest, but we changed a lot of things," Bouchut said. "Maybe I pushed too much at the start, but when the Nissan took the pole, it was too late for us. It is what it is, but it was good for the team to still start on the pole. We're going for the win tomorrow."