FRANCHITTI, PATRON HIGHCROFT REUNITE FOR SEBRING

Two years ago Dario Franchitti was part of Acura's class-winning debut at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion will return to Sebring International Raceway this week as Acura prepares for what it hopes will be another winning debut with its first race in LMP1.

Franchitti, David Brabham and Scott Sharp will test Patrón Highcroft Racing's Acura ARX-02a prototype Monday through Wednesday in the American Le Mans Series' annual Winter Test. The Scot will test the new P1 entry for the first time Monday.

Sebring will reunite Franchitti with Brabham, Sharp and the Patrón Highcroft team. The trio teamed at Petit Le Mans last season but an early-race retirement kept Franchitti out of the car during the race. He won in LMP2 at Sebring in 2007 with Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti for Andretti Green Racing. He also was the overall pole-winner that year at Long Beach.

"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," said Franchitti, who will race in IndyCar for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009. "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 Patrón 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 Patrón Highcroft Racing for 2009," said team owner Duncan Dayton. "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 and Scott 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," Dayton added. "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 sure he is really going to be looking forward to doing battle at Sebring."

The new Acura ARX-02a chassis and the spectacular 2009 Patrón Tequila paint scheme will make its public debut at the Winter Test. After scoring four LMP2 wins in 2008 including an overall victory at Lime Rock Park, regular drivers Brabham and Sharp are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to continue development of the new LMP1 entry.

"It is all about preparation," Brabham said. "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 Hours is going to be crucial, not just for him, but for the team. We should be in pretty good shape with him on board."

"I think the world of Dario, he has proven how fast he is and he has also developed a wide selection of different cars," 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."

The American Le Mans Series Winter Test is scheduled for January 26-28 at Sebring International Raceway. Daily passes will be available for $10 with paddock access and overnight camping prohibited.

The American Le Mans Series will open its 11th season with the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 21. SPEED will televise the race live from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-11 p.m. ET. Live Timing & Scoring and American Le Mans Radio will be available at americanlemans.com.

-credit: alms