The Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg proved to a real street fight Saturday, with some slam-bang action around the 1.8-mile circuit.
The American Le Mans Series debut in the streets of St. Petersburg lived up to expectations with many lead changes and a number of racing incidents that saw the Acura teams battle back through the field to finish third and fourth in the LMP2 class.
The new Highcroft Acura team, with drivers David Brabham and Stefan Johansson, scored its first podium finish with a third place in the darkness at the checkered flag. The Penske Porsches, who started first and second on the grid, placed 1-2 after coming back from a variety of mishaps.
The Sebring-winning No. 26 XM Satellite Acura ARX-01a of Andretti Green Racing stole the show at the start of the race when young driver Marino Franchitti shot from his fifth starting spot to the lead in the first five laps. Franchitti, younger brother of IndyCar veteran and Sebring winner Dario, jumped to a ten-second advantage in the earlier stages. However, on Lap 37, Franchitti’s car was hit by the Porsche of Ryan Briscoe and the Acura was sent into the tire barrier. Franchitti brought the car to the pits but repairs were needed to replace the rear wing. Bryan Herta took over the driving chores from Franchitti but was 30 laps behind the leaders, and the No. 26 Acura finished seventh in the LMP2 class.
The Lowe’s Fernandez team took its Acura Lola to the lead in the middle of the race and was racing the more-powerful Audis for the overall win. However, driver Luis Diaz was penalized for contact with a lapped car and lost two laps in the pits. Co-driver Adrian Fernandez drove the last hour and brought the Lowe’s Acura home fourth. It was a solid performance in the team’s title chase.
The Highcroft Acura squad moved into the lead with less than an hour remaining and held off the Penske cars’ challenge until a penalty hurt its chances for a win. Stefan Johansson had to make a late pit stop and dropped back to third. David Brabham had vaulted the car into a challenging position before the pit stop violation penalty. The American Le Mans Series moves to the famed Long Beach Grand Prix on April 14 on the 1.9-mile street course.
Acura Sports Car Challenge
1. Penske Porsche No. 6
2. Penske Porsche No. 7
3. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01a No. 9
4. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA LOLA No. 15
7. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01a No. 26
|Upcoming: Long Beach Grand Prix
|April 13-14, 2007
|Long Beach, Calif., street course
|1.9-mile street circuit
|Round 3 of 12 Races, 4 p.m.
American Le Mans Series
|1 hour, 45 minutes
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a, Started fifth, finished third in LMP2): “We ran a good pace today. I am very proud of the Highcroft team and the progress they have made with the new Acura car and engine. We had a pretty strong car in the race. The start was very interesting and I was just looking for a safe place. Gee, it was a twohour, 45-minute race. It is crazy to get too excited in Turn One. I got a good start and our Acura felt good. In the middle of the race, we were picking them off one at a time. We were in position to win the LMP2 class today and that is a tremendous feat for this young team. It was unfortunate that late in the race we had a problem. Stefan [Johansson] came in the pits late and he had to drive through. We lost some ground there. Overall, we’ll take third to the Porsches right now. We are developing this team and I think we can run with the leaders in the streets and on the permanent circuits.”
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): “The car felt good in the middle of the stint. We just had a radio problem late that really cost us. I thought I needed to pit and the team wanted me to stay out on the track. So I drove through the pits and we got a penalty. We were leading the P2 class at that point. I’m not sure I could have held off the Porsches but the car is coming around for a new chassis. We are making some very good progress with this new car.”
LUIS DIAZ: (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura Lola 06/40, Started third, finished fourth in LMP2) “I felt we had a car to win today. The Lowe’s Acura Lola ran a terrific pace and it was tough to have a good car but not win. I think we have a great team here and I am excited about the rest of the season. I don’t know what was going on at the start. There was just too much risk at the start for a long race. We got a penalty when I collided with the No. 20 car. I thought I was in position to pass and we made contact. That wasn’t good. But we will move on and get ready for Long Beach. I think we have a very good car for that kind of street course.”
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura Lola 06/40): “It was a great race for us. We have to learn about some drivers and certain situations. But that is part of sports car racing. We have to know about cars that are in lapped position. Luis got caught in that type of situation and we got a penalty. So we learned and we will move on. I am pleased with the pace we were able to run with the Lowe’s Acura. We didn’t have that at Sebring. But here at St. Pete, we found a good race pace. We scored some points and look towards the whole season.”
MARINO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a, Started Fourth, Finished seventh in LMP2) “I am very disappointed today. I made a rookie mistake earlier, even with a good start. I got into a tire barrier and clipped the rear wing. We had to change the wing and cost us a lot of time. I couldn’t tell what happened when I hit the barrier in Turn Ten. I wasn’t sure if I got hit or not. But I hit the barrier very hard and I couldn’t get the car pulled out. I guess [Ryan] Briscoe hit me since they gave him a penalty. But it hurt us. Bryan [Herta] came in here with the championship lead and I didn’t help him today. The car felt good throughout the early stint. We were turning some good laps. We just couldn’t get the car to the driver change for Bryan. That really upsets me. This is a good team and I want to contribute to this Acura effort. It is an honor to drive for Acura. We’ll be ready for Long Beach.”