Porsche GT's take top five qualifying positions

Racers Group leads Porsche sweep Of top five Le Mans GT grid positions; Porsches aim for eighth straight Le Mans GT win. ATLANTA -- June 14 -- The seven private Porsche 911 GT3 RS teams entered in the GT class at the 70th running of the 24 Hours ...

Porsche GT's take top five qualifying positions

Racers Group leads Porsche sweep Of top five Le Mans GT grid positions; Porsches aim for eighth straight Le Mans GT win.

ATLANTA -- June 14 -- The seven private Porsche 911 GT3 RS teams entered in the GT class at the 70th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans are poised to carry on the rich Porsche tradition at 8.625-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in France by grabbing the top five st arting positions for tomorrow's event.

In fact, both American teams are in the top five, with the Sonoma, California -- based The Racers Group grabbing the pole position with Lucas Luhr from Germany turning the fastest lap by almost two seconds. Luhr will co-drive the #81 Porsche with car owner Kevin Buckler and American Le Mans Series teammate Timo Bernhard -- also from Germany. The Racers Group, which won this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona with Buckler, Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister, is making its first-ever appearance at Le Mans. Lucas Luhr dr ove a Dick Barbour Porsche to apparent victory at Le Mans in 2000, only to be disqualified for an oversized fuel tank after the race.

This is the 51st year that Porsches have run at Le Mans -- more than any other manufacturer (Ferrari is second with 41 years), and Porsches have won their class or overall 47 percent of the time they have entered (Ferrari is second with 36 percent). Porsch es have won the Le Mans GT class seven years in a row.

The other American team, the Jupiter, Florida-based Orbit Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS, qualified fifth with Leo Hindery, from Hillsborough, Calif., Tony Kester, from Beverly Shores, Ind., and Peter Baron, from San Mateo, Calif. at the helm. It is also Orbit 's first time to Le Mans.

Both Orbit and The Racers Group are regular competitors in the American Le Mans Series, but both bought new Porsches from the factory for their Le Mans effort. The Racers Group's best finish in ALMS this year was a Kevin Buckler/Marino Franchitti second p lace finish at Sears Point, while Hindery/Baron were fifth at Sears and an Orbit-prepared Porsche with Larry Schumacher/Jim Pace/Bob Nagel was fourth at Sebring. The Orbit Porsche of Gary Schultheis/Tony Kester/Selby Wellman/Sylvain Tremblay was second in class at the Rolex 24.

Second on this year's Le Mans GT grid is the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RS -- a top German-based team -- with Italian Romain Dumas sharing the driving chores with German veterans Sascha Maassen and Jorg Bergmeister. Freisinger finished second at the 12 Hours of Sebring this year, as well as second in GT and third overall at the 2001 Rolex 24. This year, the Freisinger Porsche was third at Daytona. Maassen and Bergmeister are teammates of Luhr and Bernhard in the Alex Job Porsches in the American Le Mans Series.

Third on the grid is another American Le Mans Series regular which has a base both in the U.S. and Germany, but this team distinguishes itself by being the defending Le Mans GT champion. With Italian hot-shoe Luca Riccitelli and long-time teammates Luca D rudi and Fabio Rosa at the controls, the Seikel Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RS is always a threat to capture any endurance race it enters. A Seikel-prepared Porsche was second at Sebring this year (Hugh Plumb/Philip Collin/Andrew Bagnall).

Fourth is another European-based team that always does well in endurance racing, and showed it was ready for the challenge of Le Mans by coming to Florida in March and finishing third in the 12 Hours of Sebring. The British PK Sport, Ltd team of David War nock, Pier Masarati and Robin Liddell was able to stay with the Alex Job Racing factory drivers at Sebring, and figures to contend for a podium finish at Le Mans.

Other Porsche qualifiers include the Japanese-based Team Taisan Advan -- the 2000 Le Mans GT winners after the Dick Barbour disqualification -- with Iida/Yogo/Nishizawa driving -- with seventh place on the grid; and the Luc Alphand Aventures Porsche of Alphan d/Lavieille/Thevenin -- ninth in GT. Overall, there are 12 GT entries for 2002.

Since the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars was introduced in 1999, the car has been updated and improved, but race fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 1999 and 2000 GT3 R, and the 2001 and 2002 GT3 RS.

The latest version of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is almost identical to the 2001 model. The engine and drivetrain are the same, and the car still produces 420 horsepower, but improvements have been made in the suspension, including a blade adjustment for the front sway bar for easy pit lane adjustments, and new rear suspension uprights. The bodywork is slightly wider to accommodate the wider offset Michelin tires.

Built at the Porsche Motorsport in the Research and Development Department at Weissach, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS delivers the 420 horsepower from its 3.6-liter normally-aspirated engine. In 1999, its first year of competition, the car finished 1-2 in class a t Le Mans, and has won its class in the both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series two years in a row. The car has also won its class three years in a row at the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

More than 80 Porsche 911 GT3 RS have been sold so far worldwide, with almost half of those cars having raced in the U.S.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast live on The Speed Channel (formerly know as Speedvision) network starting at 9:30 AM Eastern time on Saturday, June 15.

The Speed Channel will be live until 4:30 PM Eastern on Saturday, and then back on the air live Sunday morning from 12:30 AM -- 4:00 AM. The network will then come back at 7:00 AM -- 10:30 AM for the finish.

The entire event will be broadcast live online on the Le Mans Radio Network, which can be accessed on the Web at www.lemansradio.com. Live timing and scoring are available at www.lemans.org.

The official Porsche web site -- www.porsche.com - has qualifying information on the race for all the Porsches entered. and will file stories and photos during and after the race. Porsche web site uses should click on "North America" from the home page when prompted to select a country, choose "motorsports," then "news" to find the Le Mans updates.

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