The Acura American Le Mans Series sports car program recorded many firsts Saturday in the Detroit Sports Car Challenge, the ninth round of the 11-race ALMS series, on the streets of Belle Isle.
In its 21st race in the highly-competitive, technically-advanced prototype division, Acura collected its first 1- 2-3 overall finish, with the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Andretti Green Acura ARX-01b car of Frenchman Franck Mon- tagny and Englishman James Rossiter leading the way. The tandem of David Brabham and Scott Sharp drove the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b machine to second when Montagny bettered Brabham by 3.98 seconds at the checkered flag in the two-hour, 45-minute endurance contest.
In addition, the top-three finish was another first for Acura when the team of Simon Pagenaud and former Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran took their No. 66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b to the third position.
The final chip in the Acura jackpot was that the entire 104-lap race was led by an Acura sports car. Sharp led 49 laps, Pagenaud eight circuits and Montagny paced the final 47 laps.
The 1-2-3 finish moved Acura to a four-point lead in the LMP2 Manufacturers' Championship, and the sec- ond place for Brabham and Sharp closed the Patrón pair to within four points in the drivers' title chase.
Brabham and Pagenaud had posted front-row clockings in Friday's qualifying and Sharp started the race in the Patrón Acura from the pole. The Florida veteran never looked back at the drop of the green flag by bolting to a five-second lead on Lap 22. Pagenaud saved his mount and took the point on Lap 50 before pitting seven laps later. During a caution period, the strategy of the XM Acura team proved to be the key to the race.
Montagny made his final stop for fuel onlyand was ahead of the field when the green flag flew on the 62nd lap. The Le Mans veteran held off the challenges of Timo Bernhard in the No. 7 Penske Porsche and Brabham to secure the second victory for Andretti Green in ALMS com- petition. The XM team captured the 2007 12 Hours of Se- bring, the first-ever race for Acura in the ALMS.
An earlier incident involving Luis Diaz in the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b damaged his and Adrian Fernandez' chances for a top finish Saturday.
The next ALMS race will be the famed Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday, Oct. 4.
Detroit Sports Car Challenge (LMP2 Class)
1. ANDRETTI GREEN XM ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
2. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
3. DE FERRAN PANASONIC ACURA ARX-01b No. 66
4. Penske Porsche No. 7
9. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01B No. 15
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Petit Le Mans
Track: Road Atlanta Braselton, GA (2.54 miles, 12 turns)
Date: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008 11 a.m. (EDT)
Distance: 10 hours or 1,000 miles
TV: SPEED-TV, Oct. 4, 11:00 a.m. EDT
Acura Contacts: Tom Blattler, 317-525-5692 T.E. McHale, 310-783-3169
AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES POINTS (LMP2)
1. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas - 159
2. David Brabham, Scott Sharp - 155
3. Patrick Long - 98
4. Sasha Maassen - 90
5. Marino Franchitti, B. Leitzinger - 82
6. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson - 72
7. Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz - 66
FRANCK MONTAGNY (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): " The XM team had a great strategy today. They know the rule on changing the driver and I jumped in right at about 45 minutes [into the race]. James did a good job with car and I was able to race pretty well with the leaders. I had to get into position to pit for fuel only when the other leaders changed drivers, tires and fuel. It was tough to try and stay on the groove. It was easy to get pickup [rubber] on my tires. So I was able to use traffic to make a strong run at the end. We have been close to a win previously and we fi- nally got it today. I feel good for the XM Acura team."
JAMES ROSSITER (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "I got a good start and moved into third early. Then on the restart, I made a bold move inside of Simon [Pagenaud], but the car slid wide with the marbles. It took me four or five laps to get the rubber off the tires and I lost about five seconds. After that, the XM car was very good. Franck did a tremendous job taking the car home for the win. The last two races were tough for all of our XM crew. We thought we had the win at Road America and we were close at Mosport. So this win is a great feeling for everyone at Andretti Green Racing."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "When I jumped in the car, we lost a couple of spots due to different strategies today. But the car was very good. I was able to move from fifth to second and get close to Franck. But it was very tough to move around some of the traffic without getting the marbles on your tires. So, I made a couple of strong attempts to push the car at the end, but it wasn't there. It was more important to calm down and get the points today. We are in a championship fight and points are a key. A great 1-2-3 finish for Acura today. Just fantastic."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): " The Patrón Highcroft team gave me a great car today. We were fast from the start. Then traffic hurt me a little bit. Simon was able to get by due to my tires being worn out. We ran a lot of laps with the Michelins. They were very strong. We ran more laps than nor- mal before we stopped. I was trying to be clean and give David a strong car. This was an important event for points for the title run. And we moved within four points of the lead. Plus, Acura took the LMP2 Manufacturers lead today. It is great for all of the Acura teams."
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "The de Ferran team gave me a great car today. Earlier in the race, I was sliding around a bit and I needed to get the tires warm. But after that, our Panasonic ELS Acura was very fast. I think we showed that this young team is getting better each race."
GIL de FERRAN (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "It is great day for Acura to finish 1-2-3 in the class and 1-2 overall. We had a great car today. Simon was outstanding. The race came down to strategy. We were leading the race and really couldn't pit under the green-flag conditions. Some of the other teams played it differently and it paid off for them. We tried that type of strategy last week and we missed it by a second from a victory. Overall, I'm pleased with the perform- ance of the team and the car. We are looking forward to the Petit Le Mans in another month."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "We don't know what happened. We think something broke on the car. We are not 100 percent certain but it is very disappointing."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "It was a very bad day for me. At the exit of Turn Three I felt the car snapping on me and brushed the wall. I barely brushed the wall. I didn't do anything differently. I didn't lose the car or any- thing like that. I feel bad about this result and we will keep working very hard."