The initial outing of a new season comes with excitement and nervousness for any team. Whether it's football, basketball, baseball, soccer or even auto racing, the debut of a new product in a new year brings a variety of anxious moments before the opening event.
It will not be any different for the new Acura Motorsports teams coming to this weekend's 57th annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, one of the world's most prestigious racing contests and American Le Mans Series opener.
The Patrón Highcroft and de Ferran Motorsports organizations bring the all-new Acura ARX-02a sports car to the legendary Florida circuit in the quest of the coveted title in the grueling 12-hour endurance race. The event marks Acura's debut run in sports car racing's ultimate division, the LMP1 class.
Patrón Highcroft Racing's driver lineup includes 24 Hours of Le Mans winner David Brabham, 2007 Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti and former IndyCar Series titleholder Scott Sharp, while the de Ferran team features the 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran, 2008 Indy champion Scott Dixon and young French star Simon Pagenaud.
The media launch of Acura's latest racing vehicle saw a huge crowd get a close-up view at the ALMS 'Winter Test" in January. Since then, the Acura machines have tested on the tough Sebring circuit several additional times in preparation for a repeat win of Acura's first Sebring race in 2007. In that event, Acura placed 1-2 in the LMP2 division and 2-3 overall.
Now, two years later, it is Acura's maiden voyage against the world's top sports car squads in Audi and Peugeot.
The new Acura ARX-02a, developed by HPD and Wirth Research, features an all-new chassis and a potent 4-liter, normally-aspirated V-8 engine. The unique suspension also features an ultimate "downforce" package as the four Michelin tires on the new Acura are identical.
The Acura contingent also seeks another Sebring win in LMP2 with the Lowe's Fernandez team competing with veteran drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz.
57th ANNUAL MOBIL 1 12 HOURS OF SEBRING
Acura Entries at Sebring International Raceway
PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-02a No. 9 (LMP1)
Drivers: David Brabham, Dario Franchitti, Scott Sharp
LOWE’S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01b No. 15, (LMP2)
Drivers: Luis Diaz, Adrian Fernandez
XM RADIO de FERRAN ACURA ARX-02a No. 66 (LMP1)
Drivers: Gil de Ferran, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring
Track: Sebring Int’l Raceway, Sebring, Fla. (3.7 miles, 17 turns)
Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009, 10:30 a.m. (EST)
Distance: 12 hours
TV: SPEED-TV, March 21, 10:00 a.m. EDT
Acura Contacts: Tom Blattler, 317-525-5692, T.E. McHale, 310-783-3169
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "These cars now have been developed so much, that going through Turn 1 in a prototype is nearly flat-out in sixth gear. The level of driver that has to be able to cope with that has gone up. We're effectively driving Formula One cars in a sense, so you do need people with a lot of experience. The Series has a lot of great drivers, a lot of great teams and it really has a fantastic atmosphere. I think that's a great attraction for drivers in Europe to come over and compete in this series. The Patrón Highcroft team has working flat-out to get ready for Sebring with the new car."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "We all realize this is a young program. We've covered a lot of ground already but we have a long way to go and it is a challenge to tackle the first race of the year against the two toughest competitors in the sports car world in Audi and Peugeot. Everyone has been working non-stop and provided we can stay out of trouble and stay in contention all day we can end up with a good result."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "Sebring is well known for the surface to change and it is almost like an oval in some ways - the grip level can just die off when it gets hot. It certainly makes it challenging in a 12 hour race because you experience so many different temperature conditions. Racing at Sebring is always special."
GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "Sebring certainly poses some unique challenges. It's a very old circuit and it's extremely bumpy which makes the 12 hours a true endurance race. In fact, it will test the durability of both cars and drivers probably more than any other race track in the world. The history is pretty special, too. You only have to look at the great names and the legendary cars that have won to understand just how prestigious this sports car race is. That's why I'm honored to be a part of it."
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "As everyone will tell you, the circuit is very bumpy, so the race is going to be a big challenge for the cars in terms of reliability and a big physical test for the drivers, too. It's hard to believe the amount of suspension travel when you look at the data. Although we are preparing for a 12-hour race, it will be harder on the cars than 24 hours at Le Mans. What's more, the layout means it's not an easy place to pass, so traffic is going to be another issue for those of us in faster cars."
SCOTT DIXON (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "I only drive in races to win them and I know both the team and Acura are the same - we are all going to push as hard as possible. That said, we are going into the unknown, not least as we don't really know just how fast the Audis and Peugeots will be following the rule changes aimed at slowing down the diesels. The Acura, though, clearly has good speed and we are out to win. I've now won a championship, the 500 and a 24-hour race. I'd definitely like to add the 12 Hours of Sebring to those. It's a hugely prestigious event around the world."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "I am really excited to get things underway. 2007 was our first season in the ALMS and, obviously, a learning year, and last season we came to Sebring with a new equipment package with the ARX chassis. This is the first time that we enter a new season without a learning curve, and we're ready to hit it hard. As for the race, I feel that we are well-prepared after a considerable amount of time testing at the track."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "Sebring is one of my favorite tracks and that is because it is so challenging. It is one of the most difficult tracks that I have driven, and the race just throws everything at you. You have to deal with the physical demands of racing on a super-fast and super-bumpy track for 12 hours while trying to stay out of trouble and take care of your equipment. It's why it is so satisfying to finish the race and to win it."