Veteran drivers Adrian Fernandez and Tony Kanaan made Saturday’s American Le Mans Series season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway a thrilling finish for the large crowd at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn legendary road circuit.
The two open-wheel stars came to the ALMS campaign in 2007 and, on Saturday, left a indelible mark on the thousands of fans who cheered them through the four-hour sports-car feature. At the end of the 157-lap contest, Fernandez had driven his No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura Lola to third place in the LMP2 division, with Kanaan taking the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a to fourth.
The Acura factory drivers returned to Laguna Seca this weekend to battle the vaunted Penske Porsches wheel-to-wheel and they didn't disappoint. Throw in a sterling drive by the Highcroft Racing Acura of David Brabham and Stefan Johansson and the three Acura-backed prototype cars left a superb impression on fellow competitors and cheering fans.
The day didn’t start well for the Acura teams as drivers Bryan Herta and Brabham spun on the opening lap of the event. But both drivers regrouped to bring their cars back into contention.
Fernandez’ co-driver Luis Diaz raced for the overall lead in the first hour of action before handing his mount off to Adrian for the final two hours. Herta was relieved by Kanaan after 90 minutes and the Andretti Green squad came from two laps behind to battle for the lead at the end of the race.
Brabham drove back to sixth after two hours in the No. 9 Highcroft Racing ARX-01a and codriver Johansson promptly passed the cars ahead to third place. However, the Highcroft charge was cut short when Johansson’s machine was hit from behind and stopped in a runoff area. The car was not reparable and finished ninth.
Meanwhile, Fernandez and Kanaan dodged slower traffic and raced side-by-side with the more powerful Audis and the potent Penske Porsches. Both clicked off fastest laps in their charge through the field.
With 30 minutes remaining, Fernandez and Kanaan became embroiled in their own battle as they swapped positions lap after lap. The two Acura racers were within a second of racing to the lead before settling for third and fourth in the darkness.
At the checkered flag, the Penske cars of Romain Dumas and Ryan Briscoe finished one-two followed by Fernandez and Kanaan. With the 12-race American Le Mans Series now concluded, Acura’s debut season saw the three factory teams, AGR, Fernandez and Highcroft, collect one win (12 Hours of Sebring), eleven podium finishes and two overall pole positions, at Long Beach and Houston.
Now, the work begins for the Acura organizations as they prepare for the 2008 American Le Mans Series season with development scheduled on the ARX-01a chassis and the 3.4-liter, V-8 Acura engine.
|LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY RESULTS
American Le Mans Series LMP2 Class
|1. Penske Porsche No. 7|
|2. Penske Porsche No. 6|
|3. LOWE’S FERNANDEZ ACURA LOLA No. 15|
|5. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01a No. 26|
|9. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01A No. 9|
|ALMS Point Standings (LMP2)|
|1. Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard 239|
|2. Ryan Briscoe, Saasha Maassen 186|
|2. Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger 127|
|4. Chris Dyson, Guy Smith 123|
|5. DAVID BRABHAM, STEFAN JOHANSSON 119|
|6. ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, LUIS DIAZ 102|
|7. BRYAN HERTA 98|
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura Lola B06/40): “It was a fantastic race for the Lowe’s Acura team. It felt great to have a great performance in front of our Lowe’s executives and also the [Acura] NSX Car Club who were cheering for us. I had a very good car today but it was a bit frustrating with the GT cars. I just didn’t get much luck with them today. Every time I moved to pass, they went the same way. I made a move on [Ryan] Briscoe to get in [LMP2] second place but a GT car slid right in front of me. Overall, it was a great way to finish the season and go into 2008.
LUIS DIAZ (No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura Lola B06/40): “It was exciting for our Lowe’s Acura team today. We started with a podium at Sebring and we finished with a podium here. I thought Adrian [Fernandez] did a tremendous job holding off Tony [Kanaan] at the end for third. I tried to stay out of trouble and give Adrian a good race car today. The team was really great on our pit stops today and the car felt pretty good throughout my stint. There was some hard racing out there today. So you really couldn’t hold back. You had to drive hard. And we came home with third. I am looking forward to the 2008 season with this Acura program. There is a lot of potential.”
TONY KANAAN (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): “That was a tough battle for our team today. We had to fight back from two laps down. But the AGR XM team never panicked and they helped me get back on the lead lap. I was driving very hard with the Audi, Penske Porsche and Adrian [Fernandez] at the end. That was exciting. It is so much fun driving this Acura car. Plus, racing at one of my favorite tracks is always great for me. I think the Acura program will continue to get stronger and get ready for the 2008 season. I believe the AGR Acura will be in contention to win Sebring again when the ALMS season begins.”
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): “I didn’t think the tires were going to be that cold on the start. I’m really disappointed by that, I really put us in a bad spot. It was an easy spin on the first lap but the car got stuck in the gravel and we lost a lap. Tony [Kanaan] jumped in the car and brought us back in contention today. He drove a sensational race. I can really see the Acura sports car program being very competitive in 2008.”
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): “Even with the spin at the beginning of my stint, we managed to come back very well. I think I might have been knocked slightly from behind. But we got back on course and pulled back up to sixth position. The car was performing really well throughout my run. We were fighting for grip, along with everyone else, especially when the track grew colder as the day went on. Staying on the same tires was tough because we picked up a lot of marbles, but we still managed to hold position and we were in good shape when Stefan got into the car.”
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): “I don’t know quite what to say – it’s highly disappointing. I think we could have won the race today – I just felt we had the car to do it. It was awful to get hit the first time and then even worse to get taken out completely. I don’t know if we would have recovered from the damage, but it was just body damage – the suspension seemed fine. I could have driven it back to the pits. We were so close but didn’t quite make it.”
|2008 American Le Mans Series Schedule|
|March 15 Sebring||Aug. 9 Road America|
|April 19 Long Beach||Aug. 30 Belle Isle|
|April 26 Houston||Oct. 4 Road Atlanta|
|May 18 Salt Lake City||Oct. 18 Laguna Seca|
|July 12 Lime Rock|
|July 19 Mid-Ohio|