Acura's battle for the 2008 American Le Mans Series LMP2 class titles in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta ended Saturday in a mass of crash damage after the 1,000-mile endurance classic.
Ready to challenge the three-car assault of Roger Penske's Porsches, the four Acura teams prepared for a flat-out 10-hour challenge on the tight 2.54-mile, 12-turn road circuit northeast of Atlanta.
However, at the conclusion, Gil de Ferran, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud brought home the only Acura to finish when the No. 66 Panasonic ELS de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b prototype placed fifth in the LMP2 division at the checkered flag.
A series of incidents eliminated the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b of Scott Sharp, David Brabham and Dario Franchitti in the first hour; the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b of Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz and Michel Jourdain Jr. at the halfway point; and Acura's strongest effort, the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Andretti Green Acura ARX-01b of Franck Montagny, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti, in the final hour of competition.
After an impressive 1-2-3 finish last month at Detroit, Acura's chance for the LMP2 manufacturers' title took a major hit Saturday. Acura had entered the Petit Le Mans with a four-point lead, but now, with the final round set for Laguna Seca on Oct. 18, Acura trails Porsche by eight points. The Penske Porsche of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves captured the Saturday's prestigious ALMS event.
The XM Acura, with Montagny, the Detroit winner, at the controls, looked to be in a position to win the LMP2 class. However, Georges Forgeois spun his Lola entering Turn 12, causing a massive crash that took out Montagny and Patrick Pilet. Montagny had charged from fourth to second and led briefly before his final pit stop.
The day started poorly for the Patrón Highcroft team, battling for the team point title, when Sharp's Acura hit the inside wall in Turn 11. The damage was too extensive to continue.
The Lowe's Acura ran consistently in the top five for six hours, but Diaz's mount was hit by a lapped GT car in Turn 3. The collision knocked the Lowe's car into the retaining wall and its rear suspension was damaged.
The de Ferran contingent battled through some loose body work, ignition problems and an early spin to finish its first 10-hour event. The Indianapolis-based team entered the ALMS campaign at mid-season in Utah.
De Ferran ran the first three hours and 20 minutes, his longest driving stint since his winning the Indy 500 in 2003. The two-time CART champion fought an ill-handling car in the first two hours before handing the Acura over to the current Indy 500 and IndyCar Series championDixon. Dixon drove over three hours, as did Pagenaud, to score Acura's top - five finish.
PETIT LE MANS (LMP2 Class)
1. Penske Porsche No. 5
2. Penske Porsche No. 7
5. DE FERRAN PANASONIC ACURA ARX-01b No. 66
7. AGR XM SATELLITE RADIO ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
8. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01B No. 15
9. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Monterey Sports Car Challenge
Track: Laguna Seca
(2.238 miles, 11 turns)
Date: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008
2:45 p.m. (PDT)
Distance: 4 hours
TV: SPEED-TV, Oct. 4, 11:00 a.m. EDT
Tom Blattler, 317-525-5692
T.E. McHale, 310-783-3169
AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES POINTS (LMP2)
1. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas 181
2. David Brabham, Scott Sharp 163
3. Patrick Long 117
4. Sasha Maassen 109
5. Marino Franchitti, B. Leitzinger 98
6. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson 84
7. Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz 75
Manufacturers - Engine - Chassis
1. Porsche - 192 - 192
2. ACURA - 184 - 184
FRANCK MONTAGNY (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): " One car spun to the right, another spun to the left, I tried to go between the two to avoid contact but a piece of debris hit my car and that was it. It broke the front suspension and there was nothing for me to do. It is just unfortunate because we had a chance to be there challenging for the LMP2 win at the end. The XM Radio Acura crew did a great job all weekend. They worked hard yesterday to repair the car for qualifying after the morning incident and gave Tony [Kanaan], Marco [Andretti] and me a great car for the race."
TONY KANAAN (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "It is not easy out there. The hours in the gym are paying off here. I had a lot of fun out there, but it is a tough race. When we started the race, I thought to my- self, 'is this 20-lap race or a 10-hour race?' It was a good battle with the Porsches. They are a little bit quicker in the straights, but we are better in the corners. Right now, we have to take advantage in traffic and use our strategy for the end. I think we have something for them later. The Porsches have to change tires every stop and we don't. So we'll make up time on our stops."
MARCO ANDRETTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "It was unfortunate. The XM Radio Acura was really good. We definitely had the best strategist behind us to put us in a really great position at the end. We had the car to win. It's a bummer."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "It's a real shame to end the race this way after the guys did such a tremendous job to repair the car and get it back into such good shape. Scott was doing great and everything was looking promising. Naturally everyone is gutted, but now we will just focus on repairing the car and coming back stronger to hopefully win at Laguna Seca in the final race of the season."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): " The Patrón Highcroft Acura was running great. I was taking it easy and trying to get through the traffic but making good progress. I got through Turn 10A and then got on the throttle. It's not a tough corner, but the car started to go into a lazy spin then it began to slide and I couldn't help but hit the inside wall. It was like something broke or a tire went down, it was a very odd feeling and very strange. It is a tough day for our Patrón Highcroft team. They worked so hard to get the car back together on Thursday after an early crash and now this incident."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "It is too bad that our race ended so early. I was looking forward to driving the Patrón Highcroft Acura so much. It was great to be back in the American Le Mans Series. It would have been fun to race against my brother, [Porsche driver] Marino, for the first time. But we didn't get the chance for that today."
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "It was fun to drive with Scott [Dixon]. He brought a lot to the team. I enjoyed racing at night. Our last set of tires were very good and the car was working well. I had a couple of close calls. In one of them, I just missed one of the crashes. I had stuff in my helmet. I actually thought I blew a tire when I drove through a lot of debris. But, overall, this was a good race for the whole team. It was our first endurance race and we learned a lot from it. It was a good learning experi- ence for Sebring and next year."
GIL de FERRAN (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "We had a very difficult first stint. We had two issues. We started the race with not quite enough downforce and the car was very, very difficult to drive early in the race. We also sustained some dam- age, which really affected the balance a lot. I had a lot of oversteer on the car and eventually that caused me to spin. We lost two laps on that incident which is unfortunate. We repaired the car, changed the back end, fixed the damage, and put some more downforce on the car and it was handling pretty well after that. It was not looking too bad. It's a shame that we lost a couple of laps."
SCOTT DIXON (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b): "It was a blast for me. I had a great time with the team and Gil and Simon. The Acura is a tremendous car to drive. I hope they will have me back again, maybe Sebring. I have won at Indy and Daytona [24 Hours], so I would like to win at Sebring, too. Not many people have won all three. We had a little trouble with the ignition in the pits. But after that, the car ran great. I want to thank Gil for the chance to race with the de Ferran team. It was a fun time."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "The incident that Luis [Diaz] had with the backmarker was unfortunate. Traffic has been very, very difficult. We were hoping that the car would be its best at night because the three of us were really struggling to stay on top of the car and we barely managed to stay on the lead lap. This track has caught out a lot of people and caused a lot of damage. It is not an easy place. I have always said that dealing with traffic is the hardest part about racing in this series. Once in awhile, it will bite you and it bit us today. It has been a tough year for us and we have to come on top of it for next year because there is just one more race."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "It was a very bad day for me. I feel bad for all of the guys that worked hard to give us a competitive car today. I got together with a Ferrari. I made passes there before and nothing happened and it seemed to be very bad timing this time. I feel bad and I hope we have a better race in Laguna."
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "The incident was unfortunate and it could have happened to any of us. This is the toughest track I have ever driven in my life for traffic. On my stint, I was a little bit too conservative at the beginning in traffic and I lost some time. From there, I felt like I was staying with those guys but then I started losing them. I wish we could have had the first win but we didn't have the speed today like Adrian said and that makes it even harder in traffic. I really hope that the team does well in a couple of weeks in Laguna. For sure, I feel like I am much better prepared for Sebring next year after running this race."