The new driver duo of David Brabham and Scott Sharp combined strong efforts Saturday to drive the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b to the team's best American Le Mans Series career finish with a second place in the LMP2 class in the Acura Sports Car Challenge.
The first-year tandem placed third overall in the one hour, 55-minute race contested on the tight 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course near the picturesque St. Petersburg harbor. Last year, the Connecticutbased contingent recorded four third-place finishes in its first year with Acura on the ALMS tour.
Sharp started the event and drove a spirited race with a group of Porsches and Audis to stay in the top four in the first 36 laps. The Patrón Highcroft team made quick pit work under a caution period with Brabham, last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, jumping in the car for the final 45 laps. The Aussie driver maneuvered around lapped traffic and a variety of on-track crashes to bring the car second.
With a fourth at Sebring and a second at St. Petersburg, the Patrón Highcroft Acura team has moved to second in the LMP2 point standings, with the next ALMS race set for April 19 at Long Beach.
Bryan Herta, the first IndyCar Series pole winner at St. Petersburg, drove a hard-charging race in the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b to take fourth in the LMP2 division Saturday. Herta's teammate, Christian Fittipaldi, made a tremendous start and ran third early before a Turn 5 spin cost the Brazilian a lap. Herta jumped in the Acura on Lap 42 and fought his way through the field for the fourth position at the checkered flag.
The Penske Porsche of Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas won its second straight LMP2 race after a Sebring victory. The Penske duo lead the current LMP2 points.
The tough luck award for the event went to the Lowe's Fernandez team with Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz driving. The No. 15 Lowe's car ran in the top five late in the 81-lap race before Fernandez' mount was hit by one of the LMP1 Audi cars. Adrian was forced to pit for repairs, but returned for seventh.
Acura Sports Car Challenge Results
1. Penske Porsche No. 7
2. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
3. Penske Porsche No. 6
4. Dyson Porsche No. 16
5. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
7. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01b No. 15
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "The track is slippery with the heat and humidity. So, a lot of the time I was just trying to keep the Patron Acura from hitting the wall. Actually, we raced hard with the Porsches and the Audis and I am pleased with our finish today. The starts were tough for us with the grip level, but once we got going we could run with the leaders regularly. This finish is big for the Patron Highcroft crew. We were fourth at Sebring and second here and it is a good start to the season. We are still developing the new Acura chassis, so there is more to do as we move on to Long Beach. Today, Scott did a good job at the start as he raced with the leaders and kept the car in good shape for me. He has driven here before but in the Indy cars. It is different with the bigger sports car. So we are excited about this finish and the start of the season."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "This is a great finish for the Patron Highcroft Acura team. I was trying to run with the leaders but not make any mistakes on this kind of track. This place is hard with the slippery surface and the tight walls. I wanted to give a good car to David so he could make a run for the lead. He tried hard, too. We are still learning each other as this is only our second race together. Overall, we are looking to make a run at the Penske and Dyson Porsches. They are tough to beat. But the way this team is coming together. I think we have a good shot at it in the near future."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): " "This is a disappointing finish for us, but I really have to give it to the guys on the XM Satellite Radio Acura crew. They did a great job hanging in there with us. The car was good today and that gives us a lot to look forward to at Long Beach."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "I didn't do anything special at the start. I had a good start and a good run, that's all. I had practiced the start this morning so I knew where I could brake on cold tires in the XM Acura. There was a gap there and I just went for it and it worked out well for us. Then, on the second lap, I just made a mistake. When I went to brake, it was two inches too deep, then the rears unloaded, locked and I half-spun and barely touched the barrier."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "We had a problem with the car in the first practice on Friday and we never really had a grip level that Luis and I liked. We could never catch up this weekend. The Lowe's Acura seemed to slide more that we wanted. I don't know what happened with the Audi out there. It was difficult with the Audi hitting me from behind. I had to pit for a new rear wheel and that put us a couple of laps behind. At least we finished. Now we are anxious to have a good finish at Long Beach."
LUIS DIAZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "The Lowe's Acura wasn't as good as we would have liked today. But we were in the top five late in the race with Adrian. It is unfortunate that he had that contact with the Audi. Overall, we need to improve the handling of the Lowe's Acura for the Long Beach. We are still new to the Acura chassis after running the Lola last year. So we need to work on some additional settings with the chassis. But I know we are really looking forward to the Long Beach race."
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Tequila Patrón Grand Prix
Track: Streets of Long Beach
Date: Saturday, April 19, 2008 4:10 p.m. PDT
Distance: 1 hour, 40 minutes
TV: ABC-TV, April 20, 3:30 p.m. ET Photos: Christian Fittipaldi (26) and Luis Diaz finished in the top seven LMP2 positions at the Acura Sports Car Challenge in St. Petersburg.