FRANCHITTI RETURNS FOR PATRON HIGHCROF ACURA ENDURANCE ASSAULT

DANBURY, CT, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009: Dario Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion will return to Patron Highcroft Racing in 2009 to partner with David Brabham and Scott Sharp aboard the new Acura ARX-02a LMP1 entry in the American Le Mans Series endurance classics.

Franchitti will join the Danbury, Connecticut-based squad for the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and will get to drive the new LMP1 car for the first time tomorrow at the American Le Mans Series "Wheels Down" winter test from January 26-28.

Franchitti is no stranger to success with the Acura brand at Sebring. He was part of the class-winning Andretti Green Racing squad with Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan that took the LMP2 win in Acura's 2007 debut and also took pole position at the Long Beach ALMS event.

After contesting a partial NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2008, Franchitti returned to IndyCar competition at the season-ending non-championship race in Surfers Paradise, Australia, qualifying fourth fastest for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He made his debut for Patron Highcroft Racing aboard the Acura ARX-01b LMP2 car at last year's Petit Le Mans.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based Franchitti will dovetail his 2009 Patron Highcroft Racing commitments with a full season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing as teammate to 2008 IndyCar and Indy 500 champion, Scott Dixon. He also contested this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona for Ganassi.

"I've been fortunate enough to win the Twelve Hours of Sebring before and I would like nothing more than to help David, Scott 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."

Franchitti, 35, has more than 180 CART and IndyCar race starts with 18 wins and 17 pole positions in the last decade to his credit.

"We are thrilled to welcome Dario back to Patron Highcroft Racing for 2009. He is going to be a very valuable addition to our squad," Patron Highcroft Racing team owner, Duncan Dayton said.

"From our team's perspective, it is extremely beneficial to be able to get Dario on board early and enable him to get plenty of testing miles under his belt before Sebring.

"Dario's experience alongside David (Brabham) and Scott (Sharp) will also be invaluable in helping us develop the new Acura ARX-02a LMP1 chassis.

"Our thanks go to Chip (Ganassi) and his Target squad for allowing Dario to rejoin us for the endurance races this year. Petit Le Mans didn't turn out so well for us last year with Dario not getting the chance to drive in the race and I'm sure he is really going to be looking forward to doing battle at Sebring."

The new Acura ARX-02a chassis and the spectacular 2009 Patron Highcroft Racing paint scheme will make its public debut at the upcoming "Wheels Down" Sebring test.

After scoring four LMP2 class wins in 2008 including an overall victory at Lime Rock Park, regular drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to continue development of the new LMP1 entry.

"It is great to get Dario back on board after Petit last year when he didn't get a huge chance to drive the LMP2 car," Brabham said.

"We are looking forward to him contributing to the program to help us with our aim of winning our first race with the new car.

"It is all about preparation - the better you can prepare, the better you are going to go. So, to have Dario get to have a lot of miles in the car before the Twelve Hour is going to be crucial, not just for him, but for the team. We should be in pretty good shape with him on board."

Scott Sharp returns the driver's seat after recently collecting All-American Team honors on behalf of himself and his teammate at the annual American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) banquet in California.

"I think the world of Dario. He has proven how fast he is and he has also developed a wide selection of different cars - he is a great test driver. It really is a great addition to the team," Sharp said.

"I'm looking forward to having him back at Sebring and I think the three of us are going to make a very strong driver combination."

-credit: hr