Detroit: Acura Teams preview

EXPERIENCED ACURA DRIVER LINEUP COMES TO BELLE ISLE; FERNANDEZ, HERTA, JOHANSSON READY FOR A STREET FIGHT Acura Prototypes Seek Second Win In Their First Season of Competition Acura drivers definitely will have the advantage when the American...

EXPERIENCED ACURA DRIVER LINEUP COMES TO BELLE ISLE; FERNANDEZ, HERTA, JOHANSSON READY FOR A STREET FIGHT

Acura Prototypes Seek Second Win In Their First Season of Competition

Acura drivers definitely will have the advantage when the American Le Mans Series sports cars hit the street of Belle Isle this weekend.

A very experienced Acura driver lineup, with Belle Isle racing background, comes to the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on September 1, Acura looks for another victory in the automakerâ^a^Ùs debut season on the very competitive 12-race American Le Mans Series road racing campaign.

After a sensational performance in winning the legendary 12 Hours of Sebring, the 2007 ALMS season opener, the three new Acura sports car teams -- Andretti Green Racing, Highcroft Racing and Lowe's Fernandez Racing -- have put together a solid first season. The three Acuras have chased the Penske cars that havedominated the ALMS tour in the tough LMP2 class as well as overall.

Acura officials knew the 2007 season will be a learning process for their three teams but the on-track performance has been superb as they have raced wheel-to-wheel often with the Penske cars.

"Winning the first race at Sebring (with Andretti Green in the LMP2 class and second overall) was hard to believe and that was quite an accomplishment for the new Acura program," said Robert Clarke, president, Honda Performance Development. "When you win the season opener, you feel that you can win some races. But we were realistic about the 2007 season. We weren't looking for on-track results. This was a learning year for us."

Clarke is very optimistic for the Acura squads at the street circuit on Belle Isle.

"At Belle Isle, I think the Acuras can be very competitive," said Clarke. "We are not really in the championship battle this year. Learning the ALMS series and sports car racing in general was the goal in 2007 for Acura."

Few teams competing in Saturday's ALMS contest have the background as the Acura drivers.

Adrian Fernandez, co-owner and driver of the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola, is a veteran of the Belle Isle track with eight CART races on the tight 2.069-mile course. In 1998, Fernandez placed second and fourth in 1996. Fernandez and his teammate, fellow Mexican Luis Diaz, placed third in the LMP2 class in the recent Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio. It marked the team's second 2007podium.

Meanwhile, Bryan Herta, winner of this year's 12 Hours of Sebring in the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a for Andretti Green Racing, comes to Detroit after seven CART starts at Belle Isle. The Warren, Mich., native placed seventh in 1997 and ninth in 1999.

Highcroft Racing drivers David Brabham and Stefan Johansson, former Formula One standouts, bring their new mount, the No. 9 Highcroft Acura ARX-01a has posted three podium finishes already in 2007. Brabham won the overall pole in the streets of Houston and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. Johansson finished third in the first Belle Isle race in 1992 and second in the Detroit F-1 race in 1985.

Joining Herta in the No. 26 XM Acura at Belle Isle will be Marino Franchitti, Dario's younger brother. Franchitti finished second overall with Herta at Houston and third in LMP2 at Mosport.

ACURA QUOTES:

BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "We had a great start to the season with the Sebring win. The XM Satellite Radio Acura team comes off a podium finish at Mosport. We had not finished the last few races well and with three races left, we have to finish them all. Both the team and I have the chance to finish third in the championship and I think that would be an exceptional first year in the series, so that's the goal. The American Le Mans Series has grown up big time, especially in the last year. I knew there was a high level of competition and the cars are great. I was born in Warren, so coming back to Belle Isle will be special. I have raced there several times (7) in the past. We should have a good car for Belle."

MARIO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "Bryan has a lot of experience at Belle Isle. So does my brother Dario. He won there in 1999. So those guys will give me some background on the track. In our last street race, we finished second overall and the XM Acura was a superb car. So I believe we can be competitive at Belle Isle. That race should be an exciting one for the Detroit racing fans. The XM Satellite Radio Acura was very good at Mosport and now we expect the same at Belle Isle."

DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "It was very exciting to win at Le Mans (in GT-1). I have been going there for 14 years and I finally got to the top of the podium. Now I would like to do it with our Highcroft Acura. I have been pleased with the performance of our Acura car. Winning the overall pole on the last lap of qualifying at Houston was exciting and gratifying. This Highcroft team is young as is the Acura sports car program. But this young team has really come together. I am looking forward to going to Belle Isle. Stefan has been very good there in the past in open-wheel cars. Our Acura has been good on street circuits too. We won the pole overall at Houston. So I am exciting about Belle Isle."

STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "The new Acura chassis has improved with each race. We had a car to compete well at Lime Rock and Road America. Winning the pole overall at Houston was a great boost for our young team. We had a tough break during a pit stop at Houston and that cost us some spots. I see the Acura program and the Highcroft team improving. These cars are fantastic to drive. They are fast and have a lot of downforce. We got third at Lime Rock and Road America. I've always enjoyed racing in Detroit. The race fans are great, they knew their stuff. I remember taking second in the downtown F-1 race in 1985 and driving the Bettenhausen car to third in the first Belle Isle race. That was my first Champ Car race and it was big for the team and myself. I believe we have a real chance to win."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola): "I used to live in Detroit, in West Bloomfield, for a few years so this is like coming home in a way. I have raced at Belle Isle in the past and have enjoyed some success there including a second-place finish in 1998. I have also had some bad luck at Detroit. I was eliminated one year when a visor strip went into the turbo of my engine, and missed four races after breaking my wrist in an accident during practice there in 1999. The last time I raced here was in 2001, so it will be nice to be back. I think we'll have a good car for Belle Isle. The action will be exciting and fast with the ALMS cars."

LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola): "I drove at Belle Isle one time and that was in Indy Lights. I really don't remember the circuit layout very well. I think our Lowe's Acura Lola will be very competitive at Belle Isle. I'm looking forward to working with Adrian at that track. He has a lot of experience there. So I'm confident we'll be ready for a real street fight in Detroit."

-credit: acura

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Stefan Johansson , Adrian Fernandez , Bryan Herta , Luis Diaz , Robert Clark