EXPERIENCED ACURA DRIVER LINEUP COMES TO ROAD AMERICA; NEW ACURA SPORTS CARS A BIG HIT IN ALMS DEBUT SEASON Fernandez, Herta, Brabham, Johansson Among Acura Racers With Track History ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- As a very experienced Acura driver ...
EXPERIENCED ACURA DRIVER LINEUP COMES TO ROAD AMERICA; NEW ACURA SPORTS CARS A BIG HIT IN ALMS DEBUT SEASON
Fernandez, Herta, Brabham, Johansson Among Acura Racers With Track History
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- As a very experienced Acura driver lineup comes to Road America this Satur- day for the Generac 500 at Road America, Acura officials look for another victory in the automaker's 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 that has seen Penske Porsches dominate the ALMS tour by not only winning the tough LMP2 class but overall as well.
Acura officials knew the 2007 season will be a learning process for their three teams but the on-track per- formance 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) and that was quite an accomplishment for the new Acura program," said Robert Clarke, president, Honda Performance Develop- ment. "We would like to win another race this year. 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 with the Acura program and the three Acura teams. The Porsches are very fast. So it is tough."
Clarke is very optimistic for the Acura squads at the legendary four-mile Road America track.
"At Road America, overall speed is important and I think we have the power to be very competitive," said Clarke. "We are not really in the championship battle this year. Learning the series and sports car racing in gen- eral 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 an 11-time starter at Road America in the Champ Cars, with a second in 2000 and third in 1999 and 2001. 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 podium in 2007.
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 Road America after an impressive record in Champ Cars at the legendary track. But the most memorable event for Herta at Road America came in 1998 when he spun in turn five and Alex Barron landed on top of Herta's mount in a scary incident.
Highcroft Racing drivers David Brabham and Stefan Johans- son, former Formula One standouts, have logged numerous laps at Road America and their new mount, the No.9 Highcroft Acura ARX- 01a has posted two podium finishes already in 2007. Brabham won the 2003 GTS title at Road America and Johansson raced five times at Road America in ChampCar from 1992-96 with a fourth in 1996.
Joining Herta in the No.26 XM Satellite Radio Acura at Road America will be Marino Franchitti, Dario's younger brother.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola): "This is my favorite track. I love driving here. The last time I competed at Elkhart was in 2003 in Champ Cars and I had a pretty good record going with three podi- ums. We had a great test here before the start of this season, and I have a lot of confidence for a strong finish in the race. We had a good car at Mid-Ohio and we were in position to run with the Porsches overall. I have finished second and third there before, but I would love to win at that great track. I feel good about the Lowe's Acura Lola."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola): ""The Lowe's Acura was very good at Mid-Ohio. The Lola seemed to fit well at Mid-Ohio and, after our recent test, I feel good about coming to Road America. We raced with the Porsches and the Audi for a long time at Mid-Ohio. I earned my second win in Atlantics at Elkhart Lake (2002). That was several races this year and I'd like to win one with the XM Acura. Road America would be a good place for victory for Acura. I really like this track and feel very, very confident. We should be good there."
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 High- croft 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. Road American to me is one of the best tracks in America, if not the best. I have always enjoyed driving a road car to a P2 car. It is a race track I have won in 2003 when I was driving the Ferrari 550 for Prodrive. I can't wait to take the Acura ARX-01a through those fast sweeping corners."
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. 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. It is still early in the season and the Acura program is only four races old. I see the Acura program continuing to improve and develop, just like the Highcroft team. I believe we'll be more competitive in the next few races. We got third at Lime Rock and our testing at Elkhart Lake was good."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX- 01a): "We were very excited from the Sebring win. But we have been going from a grueling race on an airport circuit from a sprint race on a street course to a smooth, fast permanent circuit. That is quite a contrast. We have been fast so far this year and we have been close to winning other events. We lost by less than a half a second at Houston. It was a good race with the Penske Porsche. I think the Road America race will be fun. That track is fast and a classic circuit. I think the new chassis -- the ARX-01a -- could be very competitive on that circuit. I ran well at Road America in the past and it would be fantastic to win there."
MARIO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "We had a good car at Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio. I felt we had a couple of bad breaks. I'm delighted to be racing the XM Satellite Radio Acura in Road America. I'm very proud of the job that Andretti Green Racing and Acura have done producing a car that was capable of winning the Sebring 12 Hours. Bryan and I came close to winning at Houston. So we are anxious to go to the Road America track. Testing the XM car has been fun and educational there. Dario has won several races this year including the Indy 500 and I would like to win one with the XM Acura. Road Amer- ica would be a good place for a victory for Acura."