St. Pete: Acura preview

New Acura Sports Cars Ready for Street Battle in St. Petersburg's Acura Sports Car Challenge; Lowe's Fernandez Team Seeks Repeat of Impressive Sebring Win ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With the grueling 12 Hours of Sebring behind them, the Acura...

New Acura Sports Cars Ready for Street Battle in St. Petersburg's Acura Sports Car Challenge; Lowe's Fernandez Team Seeks Repeat of Impressive Sebring Win

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With the grueling 12 Hours of Sebring behind them, the Acura teams of the American Le Mans Series go from one extreme to another this weekend.

After the demanding reliability needed at the Sebring circuit, the upcoming Acura Sports Car Challenge in the streets of the pretty St. Petersburg harbor area brings a completely different aspect to the second race of the ALMS campaign. And the two new Acura ARX-02a cars in the LMP1 class will be setup for precise handling of the streets rather than the straight line speed of Sebring's long circuit on Saturday, April 4.

The 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary circuit brings new challenges for the No. 9 Patron Highcroft Racing and No. 66 de Ferran XM Radio Acura ARX-02a prototype sports cars and their respective drivers. In addition, the Lowe's Fernandez Racing team comes to St. Petersburg off a sensational victory at Sebring in the LMP2 division.

All three Acura are considered strong contenders for the overall title in Saturday's race, televised nationally on ABC-TV at 1:30 p.m. [EDT]. The race with be one hour, 55 minutes in length.

The all-new Acura LMP1 cars, with 4-liter, normally aspirated V-8 engines, came to Sebring with a revolutionary chassis design from Honda Performance Development [HPD] and Wirth Research that featured the same Michelin tires on the front and rear wheels for more traction. It made for one of the best-handling sports cars ever designed for the American Le Mans Series. Scott Dixon won the overall pole at Sebring on the de Ferran Acura.

The new Acura LMP1 cars failed to finish in their debut, but the teams have regrouped for St. Pete.

Veteran drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp, who won four LMP2 races last year, return to St. Pete in search of improving their runner-up performance in 2008. Brabham and Sharp won overall at Lime Rock last year. They will team up in Duncan Dayton's No. 9 Patron Highcroft Acura ARX-02a in the LMP1 this weekend.

Meanwhile, former Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran and his young protege Simon Pagenaud will attempt to score their first ALMS win in the potent No. 66 de Ferran XM Radio Acura ARX-02a. De Ferran and Pagenaud placed on the victory podium three times in their initial season in the American Le Mans Series.

Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, both of Mexico City, scored a dominating LMP2 victory on March 21 in the 12 Hours of Sebring for the Lowe's Fernandez Racing's first ALMS win. Driving the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b sports car, Fernandez and Diaz recorded Acura's eighth LMP2 win in 24 starts in ALMS competition. The win added to Fernandez's impressive career with triumphs in ALMS, IndyCar, CART, Grand Am and Indy Lights. Acura won six LMP2 class races last year and two overall titles [Lime Rock and Detroit].

Fernandez and Diaz's nimble LMP2 Acura also could be a challenger for the overall crown on Saturday.

GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "I've never raced at St. Petersburg and there is very little track time, so it's going to be a tough battle for us to come to grips with the circuit and to sort out the chassis set-up. That said I enjoy street circuits tremendously and they are one of my strengths as a driver. Moreover, it's a beautiful part of the country - Florida's answer to Monaco! While we are disappointed not to have got to the end of the full 12 hours, everything was going to plan right up until our first unscheduled stop. We were still on the lead lap, track conditions were coming to us and the performance differential between our car and the diesels was decreasing. Certainly we proved that the Acura is the best handling sports car out there - that was one of the major goals of the program and those responsible for the Acura ARX-02 should be congratulated on their achievements."

SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "I know it's a nice place as I've been there on vacation. But I have no idea about the track they build especially for this race. I'm looking forward to it, though, as like Gil I love street circuits and have been pretty successful on them in the past; so let's hope this is going to be another good one for me. It won't be easy as we've still got a lot to learn. Neither Gil nor I know the circuit and it's the first time we've driven an LMP1 car - with its wider front tires - on this type of track. To be competitive, the car needs to be very quick straight out of the transporter and then it's up to us to maximize the limited track time available. It's clear from what the team achieved at Sebring that the Acura ARx-02a has masses of potential."

DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "The new Acura is very advanced car. Maybe one of the most unique sports car ever designed and built. But it was hard to bring out a new car on a tough race at Sebring. We ran over ten hours at Sebring, but it is a 12-hour race. So we were not successful in the car's debut. Overall, I think this car was very fast, especially on circuits like St. Pete and Long Beach. This car corners so far, and, on tight street tracks, I believe we'll have an advantage to excel. I see a lot of potential with this new Acura. Hopefully that potential starts in St. Petersburg."

SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "Last year, we finished second at St. Petersburg and we started to get our Patron Highcroft program rolling in 2008. Now, we come back with the all-new Acura LMP1 car and I believe we are ready for the street course. Overall, it was a pretty impressive debut for the new Acura at Sebring. The Acura won the pole [with Scott Dixon] and we were running very competitive lap times during the race. We had something grab us late at Sebring. But the St. Pete race is much different. It is a sprint race and I think our new car will be strong to the finish."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "The Sebring race was a great win for our Lowe's Acura team. It went just as we planned it. The crew was flawless and Luis drove a tremendous race. Sebring is a long and demanding event. Now, we come to the St. Pete street course and it is a sprint race. No holding back for Luis and I. You have to drive the race like you driving in qualifying. It is flat-out for the drivers. And the crew has to be on its game, too. With a short race, you can't afford a mistakes on your pit stops. But I think we showed at Sebring that our crew is very good. We'd like to add another win in 2009."

LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "It was so exciting to win at Sebring, especially our first ALMS win for Lowe's and Acura. I'm not sure we have run a better race. The testing we did earlier in the year definitely paid off. Now, it's the tight track at St. Petersburg. We have been competitive there before, but we don't have the results to show it. I think we'll be right in the thick of things to win. It would a great start to the year with a another win."

-credit: acura

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Series ALMS
Drivers Duncan Dayton , David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Dixon , Luis Diaz , Simon Pagenaud