In one of the most dramatic wheel-to-wheel battles in this year's American Le Mans Series, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud scored an Acura 1-2 LMP2 finish Saturday in the Monterey Sports Car Championships at the legendary Laguna Seca Raceway.
Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion who won the 12 Hours of Sebring last year, held off the young French star in the last hour of the four-hour sports car extravaganza, winning by just .054 seconds in one of the closest finishes in ALMS history. The popular Brazilian, who teamed with Detroit winner Franck Montagny in the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b, took the overall lead on Lap 112, and swapped positions with Pagenaud several times before taking the checkered flag on Lap 145.
Kanaan's charge to the lead included several encounters with the more-powerful LMP1 Audi of Emanuele Pirro. Pirro forced his way past Kanaan late in the race to win the overall title.
Pagenaud, driving the No. 66 Panasonic ELS de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b prototype, took over the driving chores from team owner Gil de Ferran after the former Indy 500 champion led overall for more than 20 laps in the early portion of the four-hour contest. Pagenaud drove the last 92 laps and established himself as one of the world's promising sports-car stars with his stellar performance against the veteran Kanaan.
The LMP2 win was the sixth of the 2008 campaign for Acura, season high in the class. Porsche best Acura by one point in the final LMP2 manufacturers' engine and chassis standings.
The pole-winning No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b of Scott Sharp and David Brabham led early in the race before a power-steering problem forced the car to the pits on several occasions. Late in the race, Brabham set one of the fastest race laps, but the mechanical troubles held the team six laps backfrom the leader.
The fastest race lap went to Adrian Fernandez in the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b, as the Mexican driving star challenged for his team's first ALMS victory. Fernandez, who co-drove with Luis Diaz, fought with Kanaan and Pagenaud for the lead with an hour remaining, but an electrical problem on the team's final pit stop forced the Lowe's squad to seventh placeat the finish.
Acura's second season in the American Le Mans Series proved to be very successful with six class victories including two overall wins [Lime Rock and Detroit] and four overall pole positions.
In 2009, Acura moves to the LMP1 division, with de Ferran Motorsports and Patrón Highcroft Racing set to campaign the new Acura ARX-02a. Lowe's Fernandez Racing will continue in the LMP2 class for Acura.
Monterey Sports Car Championship (LMP2 Class)
1. AGR XM SATELLITE RADIO ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
2. DE FERRAN PANASONIC ACURA ARX-01b No. 66
3. Penske Porsche No. 7
7. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01B No. 15
9. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
NEXT ALMS RACE:
Event: 12 HOURS OF SEBRING
Track: Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL (3.7 miles, 17 turns)
Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009 10:30 a.m. EST
Distance: 12 hours
TV: SPEED-TV, March 21, 10:00 a.m. EST
Tom Blattler, 317-525-5692
T.E. McHale, 310-783-3169
2008 AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES POINTS (LMP2)
1. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas 197
2. David Brabham, Scott Sharp 163
3. Patrick Long 127
4. Sasha Maassen 115
5. Marino Franchitti, B. Leitzinger 107
6. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson 95
7. Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz 84
Manufacturers - Engine - Chassis
1. Porsche - 212 - 212
2. ACURA - 211 - 211
FRANCK MONTAGNY (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "This a great way to finish the season. Without the late problem at Petit, we could have won the last three races. Driving in the American Le Mans Series has been great fun for me. The series is so competitive and the cars are great. It was fun to drive with Tony, too. He is a professional and he did a great job today at the end of the race. This is exciting for me."
TONY KANAAN (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "This place is special for me. I won my first U.S. race here in Indy Lights in 1996. And today's race was one of my favorites. The battle with Simon [Pagenaud] was as good as anything I have done in Indy Car racing. He raced clean and we swapped positions several times. I love driving these prototype cars. Winning today was a thrill for me. Franck and I seemed to have a real bond in driving together. We got along tremendously. To win here was great."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "The Patrón Highcroft Acura felt really good at the start. Gil [de Ferran] made a good move in Turn Two, but I was able to hold him off. The tire pressures were a little too low and we were sliding around quite a bit. Gil got by me going up the hill in Turn Six. Our car just didn't feel proper with the low tire pressure. I think some of the cars had a similar problem in the early portion of the race. We had a tough day with the steering problem for Scott. At the end, our Acura was very fast. Overall, it was good season for us."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "I jumped in the car after David ran so well. But something was wrong with the steering in the Patrón Highcroft Acura. The power steering went away and the car felt like I was driving a truck. It was very hard to drive it. I brought the car in several times and the team saw that the connection to the power steering box came loose. It was too bad, because I think our car was fast enough to run with the other Acuras and Porsches. We wanted to help Acura win the Manufacturers' Championship."
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX- 01b): "Wow, Tony and I had a quite a race today. I think we passed each other twice. I know we were wheel-to-wheel lap after lap. And we raced cleanly. No dirty driving at all. We had a car to win today and it took a great drive by Tony to beat us. I feel good about our race and I hope the fans enjoyed the battle too."
GIL de FERRAN (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "I'm very proud our team today. How about that race at the end? I thought we had a good race car coming into the race. And I had a great time driving here. Of course, I love this track. We made a good call on our tire selection. My stint was excellent and it was fun for me to lead again. But the story for team was Simon's performance. He and Tony put on a driving demonstration today. This was a good performance for our team. An excellent way to finish up our first season."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "Today was typical of the season we have had. It doesn't matter if we did the fastest lap and were fast in the race. At the end of the day, you win races by not having any or fewer problems than the others. We have already started our work for 2009 and testing begins in January. Next year will be our year."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "It was a tough race for us. For me, my stint was complicated. We did the right thing with our tires [compound] for qualifying but it cost me a little bit on my first stint with the handling of the car. We got things right for Adrian and he was fast. Our tough luck continued today. I truly believe we had a car to win. I know we'll be ready to go for 2009."