Acura quickest on opening day of testing at Sebring

Acura quickest on opening day of testing at Sebring

It was no surprise to see Acura atop the time sheets Monday at Sebring International Raceway, as teams prepare for the 2009 American Le Mans Series season. The two brand-new ARX-02a cars ran a handful of laps during the day's three sessions,...

It was no surprise to see Acura atop the time sheets Monday at Sebring International Raceway, as teams prepare for the 2009 American Le Mans Series season. The two brand-new ARX-02a cars ran a handful of laps during the day's three sessions, with the No. 66 de Ferran Motorsports entry quickest in the hands of Gil de Ferran, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon.

#66 de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX 02a Acura and #9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX 02a Acura.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

While the highly anticipated launch of the Acura ARX-02a is set for tonight, the two new LMP1 contenders spent the day testing in front of the assembled media. The new car is noticeably larger, featuring a boxier design and a uniquely mounted rear wing. Technical details, including engine specifications, should be revealed during tonight's launch.

But news from the Acura camp that can be released is that Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar stars Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon will rejoin Patron Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports, respectively, for the Twelve Hours of Sebring.

"I've been fortunate enough to win the Twelve Hours of Sebring before, and I would like nothing more than to help David [Brabham], Scott [Sharp] and Acura get the new LMP1 car into victory lane," Franchitti said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to show what the team was made of last time around at Petit Le Mans in October, so I'm sure everyone at Patron Highcroft Racing is motivated and gearing up for a strong effort for an overall victory in Sebring."

Both drivers were on hand today, fresh from their adventures in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. In fact, Dominik Farnbacher, Ian James, Wolf Henzler, Dirk Werner and DP winner Darren Law and GT victors Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long all made the trip south to Sebring, as did the Farnbacher Loles team, which pulled in this morning.

"What a great opportunity to be driving for de Ferran Motorsports again," Dixon said. "The 10-hour Petit Le Mans back in October last year was a fantastic experience for me. I loved the team's spirit and camaraderie. Like everyone else I am really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the brand new Acura ARX-02a and will be testing with Gil and Simon for two days this week."

GT2 teams make up the majority of entries here at Sebring and all are adjusting to minor changes in the class regulations for 2009. The cars are 20kg heavier and the ride height has been increased from 10 to 15mm. A wicker bill/gurney lip has now been enforced on rear wings, carrying a minimum height of 15mm. Also, air conditioning has now become mandatory, with cars required to maintain a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius in the cockpit.

The enforcement of air conditioning has made Porsche redesign the front section of its 911 GT3 RSR tub, which is one of the new elements to the 2009-spec car. Flying Lizard Motorsports took delivery of two of the new cars and were shaken down for the first time today. Team manager Eric Ingraham explains the major difference in the new car is the aerodynamics, which has been heavily revised in the front of the car. The team is also running a 2008-spec Porsche during the test as No. 44.

Flying Lizard was the only Porsche team to turn laps at the 17-turn, 3.7-mile circuit this morning. Farnbacher Loles' new 2009-spec Porsche got going in the afternoon, while VICI Racing and the Falken Tire squads that were on the entry list are nowhere to be seen.

#92 BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team BMW E-92 M3.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

The other big news in addition to the debut of Acura's new P1 car was BMW Rahal Letterman Racing's new toy, the M3. Bill Auberlen, Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Tommy Milner all took laps in the V8-engined machine. The four racers have been appointed factory driver status, and Milner has even taken delivery of a road-going M3 for his use (and enjoyment).

"The BMW Rahal Letterman Racing team has worked extremely hard to get the new BMW M3 ready for the ALMS Winter Test and we expect to get a lot accomplished over the three days of testing," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "We are excited not only to get the cars and drivers on track together, but also give the BMW fans their much-anticipated first look at the M3 race car."

While there is only one M3 is present this week, Milner tells us the second chassis is back at the team's shop and is awaiting a few more pieces before being ready to hit the track. Dunlop has an increased presence in the series now being the tire development partner for the team. Milner said he's seen massive improvements in the tires since his first tests at Sebring earlier in the month.

Speaking of tires, two other Dunlop-shod entries clocked laps Monday. Robertson Racing is back for another full-season despite the fact that owner/driver David Robertson is disappointed over the cancellation of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, his home race. Robertson confirms the Dick Barbour-led team has continued development of the Doran Ford GTR over the winter and will run with the same driver line up as last season.

LG Motorsports, on the other hand, is still trying to firm up plans for the Twelve Hours of Sebring and has Randy Ruhlman and Tomy Drissi testing the car this week. Team owner/driver Lou Gigliotti was seen at the wheel this morning, and the entry list also shows that Marc Goossens could be at the wheel of the Riley Technologies-built car this week.

Panoz Team PTG is here testing drivers Dominik Farnbacher, Ian James and Nathan Swartzbaugh in its Panoz Esperante, while other teams like BP Dyson Racing won't be arriving until tomorrow. Dyson's new Mazda-backed program, along with a host of other teams, will be part of Tuesday's Media Day activities.

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