DE FERRAN, PAGENAUD DOMINATE IN THE DESERT Pairing scores overall victory in return to debut venue A year ago, Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud were elated with a third-place finish in their American Le Mans Series ...
DE FERRAN, PAGENAUD DOMINATE IN THE DESERT
Pairing scores overall victory in return to debut venue
A year ago, Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud were elated with a third-place finish in their American Le Mans Series debut at Miller Motorsports Park. Oh, how times have changed. The de Ferran Motorsports pairing dominated the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix on Sunday for their second overall victory in a row.
Pagenaud took the checkered flag in the team's Acura ARX-02a by a comfortable 73.693 seconds over Patron Highcroft Racing's David Brabham and Scott Sharp. The winning duo led all but two laps as Pagenaud qualified on pole position and posted the fastest race lap for the second year in a row. The Frenchman and his Brazilian mentor also won the previous round at Long Beach.
Flash back to 2008 when the de Ferran crew rolled out on the track for the first time in LMP2. It raced the final eight events of the year and just missed its maiden victory on several occasions.
"The most important thing is the fact it's the one-year anniversary for the team," Pagenaud said. "A year ago in March we didn't have a car in the show. It's remarkable the difference between the team last season and this season. The fact that this prototype is revolutionary with the same size front tire and rear tire. It's great to be a part of that with the team and the success."
It may have looked like a leisurely Sunday drive but it was anything but. De Ferran jumped out to an early six-second lead after two laps as Sharp battled Jon Field in the Intersport Racing AER-powered Lola. By the time the Patron Highcroft Acura was clear, de Ferran was starting to lap the slower GT cars on the fifth lap.
"We knew we had to limit their strategy options; when you get that far behind you are limited in what you can do," de Ferran said. "We made a good change for qualifying for Simon and the car was really good. We made a slight change after the morning warm-up and the car was really good. It was one of the best cars I've driven in a long time and I had a really good time driving. I really enjoyed it.
"We're getting to learn the car more and more," he added. "This car is a very new concept, so understanding the car and knowing what works and what doesn't is tough. We made a couple of bad decisions Saturday morning, but by going the wrong way it was so clear that we knew exactly which way to go after that. We are always seeking perfection, and the process I enjoy very much is how to make the car go faster, and Simon and I are having a great time on this program because it is very interesting. We are always working with the Acura engineers to work on making the car quicker."
Brabham and Sharp still hold a comfortable lead in the P1 championship. Brabham was the only other driver to lead the race aside from Pagenaud and de Ferran.
The Intersport Lola was third in class; Field teamed with son Clint and Chapman Ducote in the race.
Adrian Fernandez gave Lowe's Fernandez Racing a tight 0.585-second victory in LMP2 in tandem with Luis Diaz. The Acura ARX-01b withstood a late fight with Dyson Racing's Butch Leitzinger, who just missed the team's first win with Marino Franchitti in one of Dyson's Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes.
Fernandez and Diaz won their fourth straight race in class.
"We knew it would be tough with the top speed of the Mazdas," Diaz said. "And it was frustrating behind some of the LMP1s because they have some very good top speed but in the corners we can be faster. We decided to be patient. We know patience can pay off. Adrian drove a great race and the team did what we asked them to do. I was so proud of our team in the pits. They show they are the best at changing tires and servicing the car. And I'm so happy for Acura and Lowe's; the guys have been working really, really hard in the shop."
The race came down to a battle of strategies. The Franchitti/Leitzinger entry was on a different pit strategy than the Acura, and the Dyson crew hoped to be in position to make a late splash and retain the lead for their first victory of the season. After Fernandez pitted from the lead for tires and fuel at the 1:57 mark, Leitzinger handed the lead back for a short fuel- only stop with 20 minutes left.
Fernandez built up as much as a five-second lead in the waning laps before a late-race scrap with Guy Smith in the other Dyson entry which was trying to stay on the lead lap.
"He was not blocking or anything; they are just faster on the straights so I backed off a bit because I knew it wasn't right to try to get around him," Fernandez said. "I knew that sometimes if you hit the traffic wrong that is two seconds or three seconds a lap (lost) so it would not be much different being behind them. The Acura engine is a good engine, but in this high altitude it's hard to get the top speed like the Mazdas, so we knew to be more patient and as a whole team to stay together.
"It's a very gratifying win. You know you cannot make mistakes," he added. "Everything is seconds. You are racing against the clock. So I knew I had to drive hard but I could not make mistakes. It's great to see how the team works with the pit stops and doing such a good job. Its nice to see the four wins in a row; a lot of it is because we haven't had any mechanical issues so it says something about the Acura and the team."
Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long won for the third straight race in GT2 with a victory in their Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The duo led pretty much the entire way and finished 74.559 seconds ahead of Farnbacher Loles Racing's Porsche of Marc Lieb and Wolf Henzler.
The only time the Lizard car fell out of the lead was the first half of the opening lap when Pierre Kaffer in the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT and Tommy Milner in one of BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team's BMW M3s spun at the start, impeding Bergmeister slightly while Lieb charged past. Bergmeister made the pass back into the lead later in the lap.
"The biggest thing is the test we had here after Long Beach for two days," Bergmeister said. "We only had to make minor changes to the car for qualifying and we only did one lap to save the tires. At the beginning, Marc was very good but I was able to keep in behind me after the first lap."
Bergmeister and Long won at St. Petersburg by two laps and were ahead by 30 seconds before a late-race caution period brought the race to an end under yellow. Long said Sunday was a matter of turning consistent lap times that were similar to the pursuing Farnbacher Loles entry.
"My stint was relatively uneventful although it was tight among the prototypes in the first three turns," he said. "It was like a game of chess in my stint getting the Farnbacher Loles car within the gap Jorg had. He could try to get close but as soon as I could tell they used their tires, I could attack and really build up and establish the lead."
Kaffer and Jaime Melo finished third in class as they prepare to defend their class championship at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Martin and Melanie Snow were winners in the inaugural Challenge class race. The husband-wife duo took a comfortable victory in their Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry over the ORBIT Racing Porsche of Guy Cosmo and John Baker.
"The strategy for us was to do a consistent pace and not have any issues," Melanie Snow said, who lives with her husband in nearby Pleasant Grove. "Our crew and everyone did a great job. This is so exciting and so amazing. We really did feel right at home although we are very tired. During my stint I couldn't wait for it to be over to get out because I was so tired!"
The Snows were winners at the first American Le Mans Series race in 1999 at Sebring with a GTS class victory behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Turbo. Having competed in an endurance race
"It felt good stepping back in among the prototypes," Martin Snow said. "They were very courteous, and we still had some pretty good battles. I made one lap in qualifying and I was about 0.6 seconds off pole, and my crew said I should have gone for another lap. But I wanted to save my tires because this is such a long race. I told Melanie to take her time and just keep a smooth pace to make sure we got to the driver change."
Two Gruppe Orange entries finished behind the Snow Racing Porsche. Nick Parker and class pole-winner Carl Skerlong placed second, followed by Wesley Hoaglund and Bob Faieta.
In the MICHELIN® Green X® Challenge, the de Ferran Acura was the winner among the prototype entries. The Farnbacher Loles Racing won the trophy for GT cars. The revolutionary competition awards teams and manufacturers who have the greatest overall performance with the smallest environmental impact.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park. The race is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. EDT on Saturday, July 18. The race will air live on SPEED. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing & Scoring will be available on Racehub at americanlemans.com. You also can follow the Series on Twitter.
The race also will mark the fifth round of the MICHELIN Green X Challenge. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com and limerock.com.