ACURA READY FOR REMATCH WITH THE DIESELS The question all of sports car racing wants to know is three weeks from having an answer. Just how will Acura's two LMP1 entries fare in a rematch with Audi and Peugeot at Petit Le Mans...
ACURA READY FOR REMATCH WITH THE DIESELS
The question all of sports car racing wants to know is three weeks from having an answer. Just how will Acura's two LMP1 entries fare in a rematch with Audi and Peugeot at Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA6? The first and only time the three marques competed in the same class came at Sebring in March, an epic duel between Audi and Peugeot - the sport's two diesel powers. Acura, which debuted its ARX-02a, saw both Patron Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports retire three-quarters through the race.
That was then, this is now. The two fully sorted Acuras have spent the entire season contesting the American Le Mans Series while Audi and Peugeot have focused on testing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which the latter won on its home ground.
So now we come to Road Atlanta and what in recent years has turned into a 1,000-mile sprint race, this year's coming on Saturday, September 26. Acura is banking that superior handling - thanks to a radical design that features the same size tire on all four corners - will offset the advantage the diesels will have in terms of straightline speed.
"Peugeot and Audi will be tough," said Patron Highcroft Racing's David Brabham, who definitely should know. He drove a Peugeot to victory in June at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "The diesels certainly have more power but we will be able to challenge them much harder than at Sebring. It will be a great battle but we have to focus on the championship.
"We were not ready for Sebring to be honest," added Brabham, who shares the LMP1 drivers championship lead with teammate Scott Sharp. "To do as many laps as we did and gain points was huge. It really showed how prepared you have to be going into a race like that. Audi and Peugeot were obviously a lot stronger and lot more reliable. We haven't done as much testing but with every race we have learned more and more. So anything can happen. We could win Petit. But the main goal is to get points and do our job. I think we can compete with them in the corners but not on the straights. The (diesels) still have quite an advantage on the long straight."
The Acura did, however, have enough to score pole position at Sebring thanks to Scott Dixon's shockingly quick final qualifying lap. But Acura never led a full lap with Allan McNish beating Gil de Ferran to Turn 1 on the opening lap. De Ferran, both owner and driver, thinks the ARX-02a's progression will be much easier to see at Road Atlanta against the Audi and Peugeot.
"We have improved our car since we started," he said. "Quite frankly, the learning curve of the car is such a large concept. It was clear that diesels have an advantage over our petrol-fuelled race car. But I think our car is the best handling sports car around."
Count McNish, who has never lost at Petit Le Mans in four starts, as one who is interested to see in person the progression of Acura's P1 challenger.
"They were quicker in qualifying over the one lap but the car looked very difficult to drive," said Audi's always cerebral Scot. "It wasn't quick where they were intending it to be, which was in the corners. Our mid- corner speeds were much better than theirs which translated into the lap time. It was quite clear that it was Race 1 for them. You have to think back to the beginning of the R8. That was 2000 and we have done nine years of racing in this category and this level. That's nine years of experience of doing Sebring. It would be unrealistic for a manufacturer as successful as Acura to jump in and beat comprehensively or at all ones that have been doing it for such a long period of time with a high success rate.
"But from what I understand, the Acura of now and the Acura of Sebring are two different things," he added. "I was quite impressed with the capability over one lap but the fact I was able to pull three or four seconds on the first lap (at Sebring) when the tires were cold and everything else suggested to me - just on that piece of information alone and nothing else - that they hadn't quite got the car sorted out as best. But we can see by their race pace in recent races that it'll be a battle with them. Reliability could be a factor but I don't recall them breaking down in an ALMS race so that element is also impressive."
The next round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series is the 12th annual Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA6 on Saturday, September 26. The Series' cornerstone event at Road Atlanta in Braselton Ga., is a 1,000-mile/10-hour endurance classic. The green flag is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. ET with SPEED airing live television coverage starting at 11 a.m. ET. American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche and Living Timing & Scoring will be available on Racehub at americanlemans.com. Live coverage also can be heard on Sirius 126 and XM 242. You can follow the Series on Twitter (almsnotes).
The race will also mark the ninth round of the 2009 MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com and roadatlanta.com.