The three new Acura American Le Mans Series teams made a spectacular debut Saturday by taking the first, second and fourth positions in the LMP2 class at the 55th annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, one of the world's most prestigious road-racing events.
The Andretti Green Racing effort, with drivers Bryan Herta, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, scored the LMP2 class victory over the Lowe's Fernandez Racing team of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz after the grueling 12-hour endurance contest. The AGR trio finished second overall to the factory Audi LMP1, racing on the lead lap against the more powerful German manufacturer before gearbox woes slowed the Acura ARX-01a driven by Herta in the final hour. The Fernandez team placed third overall, just two laps shy of the AGR team.
The Highcroft Racing team, with drivers David Brabham, Stefan Johansson and Duncan Dayton, placed fourth in the ALMS and sixth overall in its Acura ARX-01a sports car.
The victory was special for the staff of Honda Performance Development as the winning machine was designed and developed, in partnership with chassis specialist Wirth Research, at the HPD headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif. It marked the first time an HPD-designed engine and car had competed in a U.S. racing event.
The overall winning Audi completed 364 laps, with the Andretti Green Acura ARX-01a finishing with 358 laps and Fernandez Racing at 356. Highcroft Racing recorded 351 laps Saturday.
The LMP2 race was set up to be a battle between the factory Porsches from Penske Racing and the three Acura factory cars. But early brake trouble for the Porsches proved to be German marque's demise.
The Acuras from AGR and Highcroft set the pace in the class while the Fernandez car had a steering issue in the first three hours. An electrical problem slowed the Highcroft car and the Andretti Green XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a ran strong into the evening hours. The ARX-01a chassis will unveiled Thursday in a special media event.
Until the final hour, the AGR machine challenged the more-powerful Audi lap for lap, before the late race gearbox problem slowed Herta in the final hour.
The Acura finish was one of the most impressive debuts ever seen in the 55-year history of the famed Sebring International Raceway and set the stage for the reminder of the 12-race American Le Mans Series.
The next Acura event is Saturday, March 31, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., the three-hour Acura Sports Car Challenge.
12 Hours Of Sebring Results
1. ANDRETTI GREEN RACING (Herta, Franchitti, Kanaan)
2. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ RACING ACURA (Fernandez, Diaz)
4. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA (Brabham, Johansson, Dayton)
ROBERT CLARKE, HPD President: "I can't put it into words. I would rate it as one of the highest emotional experiences I've had. So much work went into this program. We won on multiple levels. I could not have imagine it would finish this way. It's been a long road, not just for HPD but for Acura, our teams, sponsors, drivers and everyone who is involved in the program."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, co-owner, No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a car that Bryan Herta, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan drove to LMP2 victory Saturday: "This was a fun race, except for those last 20 laps. We had some issues with Bryan at the end and we got through them. It was a real cliffhanger for us with the gearbox. It was a great way to start out in Acura's first factory sports car race. It was a tough race and we knew it coming into this weekend. But the 12-hour simulation race last month here helped us, and all of the Acura teams were prepared for today's race. Obviously, it paid off for all three teams."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a - Co-winner in LMP2): "Everyone at AGR and Acura worked so hard to put this program together. And in such a short time. I didn't know what to expect here at Sebring. It is such a tough race. I couldn't imagine coming out and winning right out of the box. It's a tremendous effort for Acura in its first American Le Mans Series race and its first Sebring race. The 12-hour simulation race we ran in February was a huge help for our team and all of the Acura teams. We learned so much from that experience. It was very nervous for us in the last hour since we had some gearbox problems. I wasn't sure if we were going to make it to the finish. But the AGR guys talked me through the problems and we cruised home for the win. It was fun to win with my good friends Dario [Franchitti] and Tony [Kanaan]."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a - Co-winner in LMP2): "It's amazing just to think about where the Acura program was six months ago and what the guys at the AGR shop were looking at for this project. We were able to work from nearly scratch to make a car that was fast and reliable. The team - the engineers and mechanics - was flawless today. We had a great race car. That last hour I had my heart in my mouth when Bryan had the gearbox problem. It was tough to sit there and watch. But he brought it home and that is all that matters. It is so nice to be on the podium with your friends. Bryan, Tony and I have raced together for a long time. So this is very special for all of us. You could not have asked for a better finish here at Sebring."
TONY KANAAN (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a - Co-winner in LMP2): "This win is special in many ways. I have been with the Honda and Acura family for many years and they have been with me for most of my success here in the United States. It is a dream to win a race with two of my best friends. And for Acura. They have been behind me for years and to win in their first sports car race is fantastic. I don't want to take anything away from the other races or championships I have won. But this victory is something I will never forget. I wasn't that comfortable in the car coming here, since I only drove twice before. Bryan and Dario helped me get used to the car and I want to thank them for helping me. The AGR guys did a tremendous job with the car and the race strategy to take the XM car to the winner's circle. This win is very exciting." Upcoming: Acura Sports Car Challenge Date: March 30-31, 2007 Location: St. Petersburg, Fla. street course Track Type: 1.8-mile street circuit Race: Round 2 of 12 Races, 5:05 p.m. American Le Mans Series Distance: 2 hours, 45 minutes