Sebring: Highcroft Racing preview

PATRON HIGHCROFT RACING SET SIGHTS ON ACURA LMP1 DEBUT AT SEBRING Patron Highcroft Racing DANBURY, CT, Thursday, March 12, 2009: When Patron Highcroft Racing hits the track for official practice...

PATRON HIGHCROFT RACING SET SIGHTS ON ACURA LMP1 DEBUT AT SEBRING

Patron Highcroft Racing DANBURY, CT, Thursday, March 12, 2009: When Patron Highcroft Racing hits the track for official practice next Wednesday for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, it will be the culmination of 201 days of intense preparation for the team's debut in the LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series with the new Acura ARX-02a.

The team was announced on August 29 last year as one of the two squads representing the Acura brand in its graduation to the highest level of international sports car competition. Patron Highcroft Racing earned the honor after claiming four LMP2 victories last year, with Scott Sharp and David Brabham also clinching Acura's first overall victory at Lime Rock Park.

Sharp and Brabham will be joined by 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti for the season opener at Sebring.

Franchitti is also no stranger to success with the Acura brand. He was part of the winning driving squad which captured the LMP2 class win at Sebring in 2007 and also earned the marque's first overall pole at Long Beach the same year.

The new Acura ARX-02a was officially unveiled at the recent Sebring "Wheels Down" test - revealing the radical design which features the same sized Michelin tires on all four corners of the car.

Patron Highcroft Racing will take part in ALMS testing on Monday and Tuesday of the Sebring week before official practice kicks off on Wednesday, March 19.

The Sebring event will also mark the 50th anniversary of Patron Highcroft Racing's David Brabham's father - Sir Jack Brabham - clinching his first Formula 1 World Championship at the US Formula 1 Grand Prix at the historic Sebring airfield in 1959.

On Thursday of race week, David will reenact the famous finish of the 1959 event when his father ran out of fuel with ½ a mile remaining and had to push the car over the finish line to claim the world title. He will climb aboard the Cooper Climax T51 now owned by Ann Finn and undertake a parade lap on race day, Saturday, March 21 - the first time he will have driven one of his father's cars.

Patron Highcroft Racing will also unveil its new partnership with the Malaria No More organization on Friday, March 20 - launching a unique fundraising campaign to tackle the preventable disease which kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds.

Scott Sharp

"There is a lot of excitement about the new Acura ARX-02a because it is such a radical design. We are learning more and more every time we run and moving in the right direction as we prepare for the first race of the year.

"The last couple of tests have been very productive. There is an art to winning a 12 hour race in spending as little time as possible in the pits. Our reliability, strategy and consistency of the car and the drivers will certainly be tested.

"We have learned a great deal in a short space of time and we now enter race week having done the best possible preparation.

"Completing 12 hours at Sebring is certainly tougher than the 24 Hours at Daytona and probably more difficult than Le Mans.

"The track is very bumpy and it is quite narrow in places so you have to be really careful in traffic.

"You have to get through the first 11 hours unscathed - you really can't think about the possibility of winning until then."

David Brabham

"I can't wait for the first race of the year. It has been a long off-season where we have worked very hard and I am really looking forward to Sebring.

"We have a huge challenge in front of us with Audi and Peugeot competing at the 12 hour as well.

"Whoever can still be running strongly at the finish and spend the minimal amount of time in the pits should come out on top.

"We will still be learning a lot about the car, the set-up and the tires throughout the race but I am very much looking forward to it.

"All the guys at Patron Highcroft Racing, Acura, HPD, Wirth Research and Michelin have all worked incredibly hard during the off-season and if we are able to come away with a good result at Sebring that will make it all the more satisfying.

"Fans see the finished product on the grid, but the amount of effort that goes into making that happen is just incredible. The pressure is on, but our guys are responding to it in the best possible way."

Dario Franchitti

"I always enjoy doing something different from my regular job in IndyCars. I really admire drivers from the past who used to race all sorts of different types of cars - Formula 1, sports cars, touring cars. I've been really lucky to have had the chance to do some of that.

"I am really looking forward to being part of the Patron Highcroft Racing squad again and running with David and Scott.

"I was fortunate to be a part of the winning team in LMP2 at Sebring back in 2007 and also scored Acura's first overall pole. Hopefully I can be a bit of a lucky charm for Acura.

"When I first tested the car it was really at the beginning of its development phase but I was really surprised at the step that we made for the recent endurance test - both in regards to performance and reliability - and I think that is down to the hard work that Robin and all the guys have been putting in.

"Sebring is always a big challenge because it is the longest and most difficult race of the year."

Duncan Dayton

"It has been a brilliant effort from our guys to get the car prepared, to get familiar with the new Acura ARX-02a and to learn what makes the car happy, what makes it fast and reliable.

"It is a new car, new concept, new systems - lots of key aspects to understand.

"We're going into the Twelve Hours of Sebring on a bit of a high after a very successful endurance test but I am under no illusions that success at Sebring won't be easy, it will certainly be a big challenge because of the quality of the opposition in Audi and Peugeot.

"The Peugeot is a well-developed three-year-old car that is very fast and Audi have a tremendous record of bringing out new cars at Sebring and doing very well with them.

"Racing a P1 prototype will be an entirely new experience for ourselves, de Ferran, Acura, HPD and Wirth Research but it is a challenge we are really looking forward to.

"When we started our team the goal was to compete at the highest level and Sebring will be a culmination of that dream. The next step is race wins, championships and success at Le Mans but Sebring will indeed be a very important step for us."

DRIVER INTERVIEW: DAVID BRABHAM AT SEBRING

What is your favorite corner and why?
"My favorite corner is certainly turn one. It is definitely the fastest corner we go through in the American Le Mans Series.

"The bumps make it extremely challenging. With the cars we have today if you get it right you can make it through there flat in sixth gear.

"That was unheard of two years ago. It is extremely fast and very challenging both from a driver's perspective, and from a technical point of view. You have to ensure the car is stable and you must keep the wheels on the ground."

What is the most challenging aspect of the Twelve Hours of Sebring?
"Sebring is a fantastic challenge to get the car to work well and remain fast and comfortable throughout the race.

"You need a car that can absorb the bumps so there is a lot of work that goes into the suspension and aero set-up - probably more so than any other track we go to.

"You really have to be well prepared because if you are a little bit lost in the first session you can run out of time to get it right. Preparation is the key.

"In regards to the race, you have to be fast and not make mistakes on a track that can easily lend itself to making errors because the grip level can change quite a bit throughout the 12 hours.

"The bumps can easily catch you out and you have to deal with the traffic so you have to concentrate hard throughout the race."

What is the secret to a good lap at Sebring?
"That is my secret - I'm not saying!"

If you could make a change to the circuit, what would it be?
"A part of me wants to say take the bumps out but in some way that would take away part of the challenge so I would say leave it exactly as it is."

What is your favorite memory of Sebring?
"One of the best races I had at Sebring was the big return race for Aston Martin in 2005. We had a great race with the Corvettes and winning the GT1 class was certainly a special moment.

"Winning it overall would be fantastic. I've won in GT1 and GT2 but now we are going there with the new Acura LMP1 - I am pretty determined to get that trophy."

-credit: phr

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Duncan Dayton , David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Dario Franchitti , Jack Brabham