Rookie Leitzinger at home on pole

Fastest qualifying time marks 3rd straight time he's won Trans Am spot

Grand Prix notebook

Auto Racing

July 20, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Rookie or not, here comes Butch Leitzinger.

Leitzinger, a first-year driver racing the No. 88 car for Tom Gloy Racing, captured his third consecutive pole position, recording the fastest qualifying time yesterday for the Trans-Am Series BF Goodrich Tires Cup race at RFK Stadium.

Leitzinger's time of 1 minute, 12.021 seconds was more than four-tenths of a second faster than runner-up Boris Said, who was clocked at 1:12.450 in the No. 33 car for ACS Express.

Leitzinger, who won pole positions at Mid-Ohio and Cleveland in his two previous outings, has claimed four poles in just seven career Trans-Am starts.

Leitzinger said he expects a lot of jockeying during the race, which will start at 2:30 p.m. today.

"The grip is so good on the asphalt that it's going to promote a lot of passing opportunities," he said. "It's going to inspire a lot of confidence in the drivers, and I think we'll have an exciting race."

Said, who has qualified for the No. 3 position in every race this season, said the drivers will be more than comfortable with the confines of a temporary circuit such as the one constructed at RFK.

"There are some places to pass, and it should be a test for the drivers," he said. "You should definitely see some Fiberglas being exchanged."

Rounding out the top five in qualifying were Tony Ave with a time of 1:12.452 in the No. 53 car for LAC Motorsports, Michael Lewis in 1:12.576 in the No. 12 car for American Spirit Racing/Autocon Motorsports, and Johnny Miller in 1:12.735 in the No. 64 car for Rocketsports racing.

Some light help

The American Le Mans Series is taking a more fan-friendly approach to racing this year.

Seeking to help fans who attend races, but don't know who is leading, the organization has introduced a lighting system that can be spotted on every car.

Each car has three lights installed on each side in front of the rear wheels. When one light is lit, the car is leading the race; two lights signify a car is running in second place and three lights denote a third-place vehicle.

The four classes of cars under the American Le Mans Series umbrella have different-colored lights. The LMP 900 (Protoype) cars have red lights, while the smaller LMP 675 cars are equipped with blue lights.

The lights on the GTS cars are green and the lights on the GT cars are yellow.

Andy Hall, spokesman for the American Le Mans Series, said the cars have carried the lights - which are intense enough to be seen in daylight - in the past four races.

"The idea was to help people who hadn't been to a race and to help those who have but are still confused about who is leading," Hall said. "We have gotten a lot of positive comments."

Kelly Collins, who drives the No. 4 Corvette in the GTS Class, said he supports any measure that aids the fans who attend and the races.

"Sometimes, when it's so loud like this, you can't even hear the loudspeakers," Collins said. "It worked right off the bat, and I'm all for it."

Locals practice well

Ellicott City resident Joe Blacker and his AB Motorsport team clocked top-five speeds in the LMP 675 Class during morning and afternoon practice sessions.

The No. 77 Pilbeam MP84/Nissan had the fourth-fastest time among LMP 675 cars with 1:15.494 during a morning run and the fifth fastest of 1:14.022 in the afternoon.

"There's plenty of room for improvement," Blacker said. "We're not setting up for speed as much as we are for drivability. That being said, you have to be there at the end to win."

Monkton resident Marc Bunting and his American Viperacing team posted the fifth-fastest time among GTS cars in the morning when the No. 45 Dodge Viper GTS-R powered in at 1:15.013.

The team slipped to sixth among GTS cars during the afternoon session with a time of 1:13.403.

"We definitely need to get quicker," Bunting said. "We're constantly chasing the Corvettes, but we are getting closer."

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