Grueling Petit Le Mans Takes Its Toll At Road Atlanta As Highcroft Racing Leads The Acura Contingent
The 10th anniversary of the Petit Le Mans sports car classic Saturday at Road At- lanta ended up being a survival test. The rate of attrition was staggering on the 2.54-mile, 12-turn road circuit.
The 1000-mile endurance road racing contest saw rough-and-tumble action with some of the world's most expensive racing machines and, when the dust cleared, there was a large amount of carnage and worn-out parts.
The No. 9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a dodged many spinning cars and flying pieces in one of the most grueling races in the 12-event American Le Mans Series.
At the conclusion of the Petit event, drivers David Brabham, Stefan Johansson and Robbie Kerr brought the Highcroft Acura home to the sixth position in the LMP2 category, following a 23-minute pit stop to replace a faulty starter in the middle of the nine-hour, 22-minute race.
The long pit stop dashed the Highcroft team's bid for its fifth podium finish of the 2007 ALMS season. In the first three hours, Johansson led the LMP2 class and ran second overall with the team's outstanding pit stops. Brabham drove the Highcroft car as high as third Saturday.
At the finish, the Highcroft Acura completed 365 laps.
The winning LMP2 team was the trio of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and American Patrick Long in the No. 7 Penske Porsche.
Misfortune struck the other two Acura-powered prototype organizations with Lowe's Fernandez Racing placing eighth in LMP2 and Andretti Green Racing in ninth.
The Lowe's Fernandez team of drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz ran in the top five in the first three hours of competition before Diaz was caught up a three-car crash. The Lowe's Acura squad changed the entire bodywork and right rear suspension in under an hour to return to action. However, another suspension part broke on Lap 87 and the team was forced to retire from the event.
The Sebring-winning No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a from Andretti Green Racing, with drivers Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira, also was a victim of crash damage when the No. 20 Dyson Porsche struck Herta's mount and punctured the Acura's side radiator. The result caused the water from the Acura 3.4-liter V-8 to be lost and the AGR team's effort was finished after just 50 laps.
The 2007 American Le Mans Series is the debut season for the Acura prototype sports-car effort that re- corded one victory (Sebring) and ten podium finishes among the three teams.
The ALMS season finale is next on the agenda for the Acura teams, with a trip to the Monterey Peninsula on Saturday, Oct. 20, for the Monterey Sports Car Championship at the legendary Laguna Seca Raceway.
Qualifying takes place on Friday, Oct. 19, with the four-hour race set for 2:45 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday. The live flag-to-flag television coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. (PDT), Oct. 20, on SPEEDTV.
PETIT LE MANS RESULTS
American Le Mans Series LMP2 Class
1. Penske Porsche No. 7
2. Dyson Porsche No. 20
6. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01a No. 9
8. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA LOLA No. 15
9. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01a No. 26
ALMS Point Standings (LMP2)
1. Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard - 216
2. Ryan Briscoe, Saasha Maassen - 167
3. Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger - 119
4. DAVID BRABHAM, STEFAN JOHANSSON - 115
5. Chris Dyson, Guy Smith - 113
6. ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, LUIS DIAZ - 95
7. BRYAN HERTA - 93
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "During my first stint, it was a bit tricky on the restart, going from the setup we had from qualifying. I lost a lot of ground there. When the car would start to hook up, we would have a yellow [caution flag]. We were doing great considering the competition we were up against. We had a fantastic pit stop, beating the Penske car out of the pits early on. We had several great stops and the guys should be commended for that because that improved our position."
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "We started out pretty well, but then we began having starter problems and we dropped in position. The car was difficult to drive in those condi- tions. Overall, the car was very light - which we knew before we started. We did a long pit stop on a yel- low to adjust the rear wing. It made some difference, but the car had very low grip in general. With the grip issues, you had to work a lot harder than normal with the steering. It was just tough out there."
ROBBIE KERR (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "It was a fantastic race - it's a shame we had an issue with the starter motor which cost us so much in the overall race. The traffic was okay - most of the drivers out there are professionals and they give you more room if they see you're a lot quicker. With the other drivers who weren't so accommodating, you had to fight your way past. In the larger picture, I have really enjoyed my time with Highcroft and I hope I'll be back in the future."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura Lola B06/40): "It was a bad day for us. We had a good plan and good strategy but unfortunately we couldn't get to the end. This race is not about speed; it is about getting to the end. We had a bad break when Luis had nowhere to go. We had a good car, and we were saving fuel and taking care of the equipment. It's unfortunate our day came to an early end."
LUIS DIAZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura Lola B06/40): "It was a tough race for me. The first lap [of my stint], I had an incident that I couldn't avoid. The cars in front of me touched and one of them spun. It didn't give me any room at all on the track and I made contact. Then I was hit from behind. I had quite a bit of damage to the car. We pitted and the guys did a great job to fix the car quickly. When I went back to the track, the car felt pretty decent. Unfortunately, the rear wheel came off and that ended our day. I feel bad for everyone because we did the right things today, but this is racing. We didn't have luck on our side today."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "This is incredibly disappointing for everyone involved with the XM Satellite Radio Acura. All of these guys have worked so hard to get this car ready and it's disappointing. I'll have to look at the replay of the last incident because I arrived at the brake zone and Chris Dyson was still be- hind me. He must have tried to outbrake me but I never saw him and he touched me. Unfortu- nately it fatally damaged what was already a pretty damaged race car from my earlier get- together with Jan [Magnussen]. I'm glad he's okay but I thought he was opening the door for me. This isn't the way we wanted this day to go."
Upcoming: Monterey Sports Car Championships
Location: Laguna Seca Raceway Monterey, California
Track Type: 2.238-mile, 11-turn road circuit
Race: Final Round of 12 races, 2:45 pm, American Le Mans Series
Distance: 4 hours