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BMW Takes Pole for 47th Annual 12 Hours of Sebring

19 March 1999

Sebring, FL-March 18, 1999-

The fabled 12 Hours of Sebring has always been a spot for innovation and benchmarks in sportscar racing. 1999 is no different. The BMW team of Tom Kristensen, JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller in the new V12 Le Mans Racecar drove to pole position with a quick lap of 1:49.850 for a speed of 121.25 mph. The time was a new lap record. The reason for the new lap record is the reconfiguration of the Sebring track.

Starting next to the BMW on the front row will be the Riley & Scott MKIII Judd powered prototype of Eric van de Poole, David Saelens and Tomas Enge. The team drove to a time of 1:50.296 for a speed of 120.76 mph.

The 12 Hour field will be comprised of Prototype (WSC/LMR), GTS (formerly GT2) and GT (formerly GT3). 32 prototype entries are listed for the 12 Hour race. The entries are a record number since the inception of the World Sports Car (WSC) class five years ago. In GTS, 12 cars are listed for the race with 18 cars entered in the GT class.

The American Le Mans Series which was introduced to the United States with the inaugural Petit Le Mans in October of 1998 has become the sportscar racing darling of the United States. Evidenced by the number of entries for the 12 Hour race the series is off to a great start. The eight race series will conclude in San Diego after visiting Road Atlanta (twice), Mosport, Sears Point, Portland and Laguna Seca.

One of the other anticipated cars for 1999 is the introduction of the Audi R8R. The two car entry was 11th and 12th fastest for the first qualifying session. The Audi's will race at Sebring and then make the journey home for preparation of the Le Mans pre-qualifying race. A good showing is what the team is the team's main goal. A return to the United States will be predicated on the results from Le Mans.

One of the more familiar race teams, the Dyson Riley & Scott Ford MK III led by Rob Dyson, Butch Leitzinger and Elliott-Forbes Robinson qualified fourth in the first session. The front row are the only two spots guaranteed by Wednesday's times. The BMW team held both the top qualifying spot and the third spot as well.

Porsche, which has pulled it's factory effort until the year 2000, is represented by the Champion GT1 team of Thierry Boutsen, Bob Wollek and Dirk Muller. The team was way off the pace in the first qualifying session with a time of 1:55.926 for a speed of 114.90mph. Finding four seconds between now and race time will be difficult.

So the first session and the front row is set. For now BMW is the class of the field. But like everything with the 12 Hours of Sebring the outcome is never what you expect.

David Treffer-The Auto Channel