Acura trio looking to add Petit win to mantles

Each racing series has its marquee event, with the American Le Mans Series running theirs the latest in the calendar year. The upcoming Petit Le Mans will feature a plethora of motorsports all-stars, who join the usual driver lineups for the ...

Each racing series has its marquee event, with the American Le Mans Series running theirs the latest in the calendar year. The upcoming Petit Le Mans will feature a plethora of motorsports all-stars, who join the usual driver lineups for the ten-hour or 1000-mile endurance classic, celebrating its 11th year.

The end of the open-wheel season allows for top drivers to make cameo appearances in ALMS. No less than six current full-time IndyCar Series drivers are strapping into P2 class prototypes with their eyes on adding a win in this event to their trophy racks. Countless others with prior open- wheel starts in either of the then-split ranks will also contest this race.

Acura has snagged a trio of former IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champions to their stable. The title contending Highcroft Racing welcomes Dario Franchitti, who only recently announced a return to the IndyCar ranks, to its lineup along with David Brabham and Scott Sharp. Gil de Ferran adds the current '500 and title holder Scott Dixon to his own entry, also wheeled by Simon Pagenaud.

That threesome participated in a conference call held earlier today to discuss their aspirations and preparation for this event.

"I think the biggest thing looking forward is beating the competition," de Ferran said of the world-class field aligned for this event. "We have some of the finest competition you can get if you went around the world handpicking drivers and teams to participate."

"For us as a team, and for me as a driver, to be part of such an elite group is really a great honor. When you're in a situation like this, when you do well, it means that much more. Certainly, for me and I know Scott has more experience in long-distance races, and Simon to an extent, we'll be doing a lot of learning on the job as we do our first real long distance race of the year."

"Going to race with a great team makes the transition easier," Dixon said of his first Petit appearance since 1999. "You're never in the car that often for sportscar races. I just love doing laps. For me, the track time is fantastic, and there are a ton of cars so you're constantly passing people, which is different from what we usually do. Gil's the guy with this team."

De Ferran Motorsports only entered the series at Miller Motorsports Park in May, and as such did not participate in the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring.

The Highcroft effort in particular is counting on Franchitti's ability to lift them past the Porsche RS Spyders in the field. Its emergence as one of Acura's premier programs has occurred rapidly and with much work in a short time by team owner Duncan Dayton and his staff and crewmembers.

"I love all different types of cars and been very fortunate throughout my career," Franchitti said. "It was a goal of mine to do this race. When Duncan Dayton called me to do this race, I knew I was getting a very competitive car, a great team and teammates and lets me do what I want to do."

Most of Franchitti's 2008 was spent middling in NASCAR. The difference between the stock cars and sportscars is night and day, and returning to a different form of racing is something he appreciates.

"It's two completely different cars on the planet, from a stock car to the ALMS Acura car," he said. "We were joking earlier I was running 19 seconds a lap faster in the Acura. From there we worked on consistency. With that level of downforce and grip, it's going to be a challenge. I'm lucky the Patron Highcroft team is right on top of their game. Hopefully I can do my part help them achieve what they want which is to beat the Penske guys."

Of the approach, Franchitti offered, "It's very easy to get stuck behind someone, so definitely patience is gonna be a key. Chip (Ganassi) really preached that to us. You might lose a second or two staying behind, but you'll lose a lap if you lose the nose."

The divergence from their normal form of single-seater racing offers these drivers a fantastic opportunity to prove their skills in a different arena of motorsport. Not to mention the fans in attendance get to see a proverbial melting pot of this country's finest road racers in one paddock.

In a little over a week's time, the ALMS convenes in Atlanta for the much- anticipated 11th Petit Le Mans.

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About this article
Series ALMS , IndyCar
Drivers Duncan Dayton , David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Simon Pagenaud