A New Car at Home, Some New Drivers at the Track Is Highcroft Racing's Story Prior to Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta

BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 28 - Last Saturday night was certainly exciting for Highcroft Racing.

This Saturday night should be exciting as well.

Last Saturday night the team's new Courage LC75 chassis was delivered to the team's Danbury, Conn., headquarters. That car will be an integral part of Acura's new LMP2 program that is slated to begin at the 2007 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season opener at Sebring, Fla., in March.

But before it begins work on its new car in earnest, Highcroft Racing has entered its No. 9 Lola EX257 AER in the LMP1 division in another one of the ALMS' biggest races, Saturday's Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda CX-7 at Road Atlanta Motor Sports Center outside of Atlanta.

The distance is 1,000 miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first.

The team has a stellar driver line-up. Joining team owner and driver Duncan Dayton of Danbury, Conn., in the race that begins at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday are Indy Racing League star Vitor Meira of Brasilia, Brazil and Indianapolis, Ind., and the Grand American Rolex Series' and Champ Car's Memo Gidley of Novato, Calif., and Sherrills Ford, N.C.

Saturday's race will be televised live on SPEED beginning at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Neither Meira nor Gidley have ever competed in an ALMS LMP1 car prior to this event. Meira has never even attended an ALMS race before this one, nor has the Panther Racing IRL IndyCar Series driver ever been to Road Atlanta. But Dayton has been very pleased with how quickly both of his co-drivers are adapting to the challenge.

It should also be noted both Meira and Gidley drivers do have bright spots on their resumes pertaining to endurance racing. Meira, who finished second in the Indy 500 last year, won a three-hour race in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2000 as well as a six-hour and a three-hour race there in 1999. He was also a class winner of a Brazilian 1,000-mile sports car race in 1997.

Gidley, who finished sixth in the 2000 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, drove the No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms Daytona Prototype this year in the Grand American Rolex Series for Finlay Motorsports, which finished fourth in the team point standings for the year. Earlier this month Gidley and co-drivers Michael McDowell and Guy Cosmo placed second in that series' nine-hour season finale at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.

Dayton, who drove against Gidley in the Formula Ford 2000 series in the nineties, has all sorts of endurance sports car success and he's been busy giving Meira and Gidley tips about the Lola. Dayton was victorious in the P675 class at this very race in both 2002 and 2003 while driving for Intersport Racing. He also won the Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2002, and he has four starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He's also finished in the top five at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

We caught up to all three drivers as they waited for a turbo waste gate problem to be solved on the Lola prior to a night practice session on Road Atlanta's 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course Thursday. Quotes follow.

Duncan Dayton: "I'm pleased to be as close as we are. We're still working on a couple of issues. If we can be within a second of the Audis, I'll be happy. You have to remember that it's a 1,000-mile or 10-hour race. It's not all about whose car is fastest on one lap.

"We had the waste gate issue and earlier we had some mapping issues and a minor shock issue, but other than that so far it's basically been letting Memo and Vitor get some time in the car. Neither one has driven with a paddle shift before, or with carbon brakes on a road course. They're both doing very well; I'm pleased with their performance. Vitor came down here and drove a Panoz school car at the end of last week just to learn the track."

Vitor Meira: "With the little endurance sports car racing I've done in the past, this car is the fastest one I've ever driven. It's way beyond my expectations. It's much faster than I thought it would be. Everything works very well. It's just awesome to be here.

"I've driven a Daytona Prototype, and I drove a Riley and Scott in Brazil. I've driven three or four Prototypes probably; five including this one. But this is the first ALMS race I've been to. I've never been on this track either. It's a lot to take in, but I'm having a blast.

"As far as Highcroft goes, if Acura is associated with them, then I know that they're a good team. They are good people and they can win races. They're very professional. But I'm just a driver. If Honda is involved, I want to be involved.

"I've done about 15 or 20 laps so far before this night practice. I've driven at night in IRL races and in Brazil, but it's my first time in one of these cars at night and my first time here at Road Atlanta at night."

Memo Gidley: "Everything with Highcroft Racing is first-rate. Last week when I went for my seat fitting at the shop in Connecticut, I was totally impressed. It's one of the nicest shops I've ever been to. The attention to detail trickles down into everything they do, and just being around that is a great feeling. I always knew they were serious contenders to win, but now getting to drive for them has reinforced that. The quality of the people that work for Highcroft Racing is great; everyone is very professional.

"The car is awesome. It has a lot of grip. It drives very similar to a Champ Car or a go-kart on soft tires, and the carbon brakes are great. The way the car responds makes me smile at every corner, and I'm sure the Acura next year will be even better.

"I've probably done 15 to 18 laps so far before this night practice session; I'm ready for more!"

Qualifying will be held at 3:25 p.m. Friday. Dayton said that the decision on who would be behind the wheel for quals hadn't been made yet as of Thursday night.

For more information on Highcroft Racing, see highcroftracing.com. More information about Saturday's race can be found at americanlemans.com. Live timing and scoring and Internet radio coverage will be available at imsaracing.net. Meira's Web site is at vitormeira.com while Gidley's is at memogidley.com.

-credit: hr