St. Pete: Acura Motorsports preview

POTENT ACURA SPORTS CAR TEAMS READY FOR "STREET FIGHT" AT ST. PETERSBURG'S ACURA SPORTS CAR CHALLENGE Strong Sebring Runs Show New Acura Chassis Will Be Competitive ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The most technologically-advanced racing machines in...

POTENT ACURA SPORTS CAR TEAMS READY FOR "STREET FIGHT" AT ST. PETERSBURG'S ACURA SPORTS CAR CHALLENGE

Strong Sebring Runs Show New Acura Chassis Will Be Competitive

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The most technologically-advanced racing machines in North America will be forced into a "street fight" in the April 5 Acura Sports Car Challenge.

The prototype sports cars of the American Le Mans Series feature Formula One-style comput- erization, paddle shifting, traction control and incredible braking. But those items may be reduced to a drivers slamming and banging their cars on the 14-turn 1.8-mile street circuit near the St. Petersburg harbor. Advance technology may not be as important as pushing and shoving in tight quarters in the nearly two-hour contest that will be televised on ABC-TV.

Three strong Acura-backed LMP2 sports car teams figure to be right in the thick of the "street fight" when the green flag drops at 1:25 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday, April 5.

A year ago, the three all-new Acura prototype teams made the car maker's sports car racing debut at the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring and even surprised themselves with a sensational 1-2-4 finish in the LMP2 class.

Two weeks ago, the racing squads of Andretti Green Racing, Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Patrón Highcroft Racing challenged the potent Porsches, Audis and Peugeots for the overall price on the grueling Sebring airport track in central Florida.

Now, the LMP2 Acura teams switch their focus from reliability and survival of the 12-hour event to developing a handling car with lightening speed on the straightaways and traction in the corners.

Leading the Acura charge with the Lowe's contingent of Mexican driving stars Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, who led last year's Acura Challenge at St. Pete before a late race mishap cost them the victory. At Sebring, the duo drove wheel-to-wheel with winning Porsche throughout the 12-hour classic.

A switch from the Lola to the new No.15 Acura ARX-01b car has given the Lowe's team a more competitive and consistent machine in all types of tracks including street circuits.

The Andretti Green Racing pair of Bryan Herta and Christian Fittipaldi, who led overall at Se- bring before some overheating troubles, bring the No.26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b to St. Pete with vast street racing experience. Herta won the IndyCar Series pole at St. Pete in 2005 and finished second last year at Houston in great comeback effort. Fittipaldi was a top contender in the open-wheel competition for over a decade and placed second in the streets of Miami in his last street race in 2002.

The Highcroft team, after placing third in 2007 LMP2 team standings, sports new livery with Patrón Spirits as the primary sponsor. Veteran David Brabham leads the Patrón team along with former IndyCar Series champion Scott Sharp. The Patrón squad placed fifth overall at the recent Sebring race and fourth in the highly-competitive LMP2 division. Sharp is a three-time St. Pete starter in Indy cars.

Luis Diaz made a strong run in last year's Acura Sports Car Challenge and he'll be a contender this year with Adrian Fernandez and the potent Lowe's Acura ARX-01b prototype.

ACURA QUOTES:

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No.15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "St. Petersburg provides the perfect backdrop for a race with beautiful scenery and a great atmosphere for the fans. The circuit itself is nice and challenging. It's tight but fast too, and traffic will definitely make things interesting for qualifying and the race. We had a great race last year. We learned about some drivers and certain situations. But that is part of sports car racing. We didn't know about cars that are in lapped position. Luis got caught in that type of situation and we got a penalty. So we learned from it. We are excited about the new Acura ARX-01b chassis for St. Pete."

LUIS DIAZ (No.15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "The St. Pete race last year was very frustrating. I felt we had a car to win. The Lowe's Acura ran a terrific pace and it was tough to have a good car but not win. We got a penalty when I col- lided with a car. I thought I was in position to pass and we made contact. That wasn't good. With the new Acura ARX-01b car, I feel we have the car to be very strong at St. Pete. That is a tight track and you need a good handling car for that type of circuit. I feel confident after last year."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "I was very excited to make my first start in the XM Acura at Sebring. It was very disappointing to have the day end like this because we obviously had a pretty solid car. For me, I had a pretty difficult first stint because of a tire choice we made that definitely wasn't the correct one at the moment. But, the car was still good and when we changed tires, I had a pretty competitive second stint. I've only been with them for a few months and I am anxious to get to the streets of St. Petersburg. I love racing on the street circuits. Bryan (Herta) really sped up the whole process of me learning about the car and it's been good to have his experience. Acura has really stepped it up this year."

BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "Certainly the guys at Acura have put in a lot of work over the winter attempting to make the XM Acura faster. We've made some aerodynamic changes that will be very difficult for fans to notice. and I think we've achieved that. Obviously, the XM Acura had a lot of speed early in the Sebring. But, later on, we started struggling with the overheating and finally, we just couldn't control the temperature with the engine anymore. It hurts to not get a better finish here, but it's a long championship ahead. At this point, we just have to look forward to the Acura Sports Car Challenge and try to get a win there.""

SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "I raced at St. Pete for the last three years in the IndyCar Series so I have a good perspective of the turns and the circuit in general. But it will be different with the prototype car. David [Brabham] is good driver on the street tracks and I feel we'll have a strong effort with the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura. The new Acura ARX-01b chassis has shown the speed for the tight tracks. We had a really great run at Sebring. I got very comfortable in the car and was able to turn some really consistent laps. It all came together for us there at the end. The Acura is the best car I have ever driven."

DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "Last year's race had a crazy start. Many driv- ers got too excited and there was a lot of action in Turn One. I was just looking for a safe place. In the middle of the race, we were picking them off one at a time. We were in position to win the LMP2 class It was unfortunate that late in the race we had a problem. We lost some ground there and finished third. This year's Acura is a good street circuit car and I feel very good coming to the streets of St. Petersburg. That is a great event and I would love to win it for Acura and Patrón Highcroft Racing."

-credit: acura

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Bryan Herta , Luis Diaz