Bryan Herta had the large crowd at the Lone Star Grand Prix on its feet Saturday evening in a wild finish on the JAGFlo Speedway road course around the famed Astrodome and beautiful Reliant Stadium.
The California driver just missed taking the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a sports car to the overall victory on the tight 1.7-mile, 10-turn track many drivers called one of the roughest circuits on the 12-race American Le Mans Series tour. Herta came from 27 seconds behind to close within .450 seconds at the checkered flag and take second overall to the No. 7 Penske Porsche driven by Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas.
Marino Franchitti, Dario's younger brother, started the race in the fifth position in No. 26 Acura and fought through some heavy traffic to hand over the Andretti Green Racing machine to Herta on lap 58. Herta quickly diced his way to the front of the field and raced wheel-to-wheel with both Penske Por- sches and the No. 1 Audi driven by Rinaldo Capelli.
The only full-course yellow period came out on lap 111 and Herta drove into the pits for a fuel stop only. Unlike the Porsche and Audi teams, Herta's crew did not add four new Michelin tires. At the restart, Herta drove in and out of traffic to close from a 3.7-second advantage by Bernhard to less than a second. The Houston crowd was standing and yelling for Herta to take the lead.
With one lap remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute race, Herta took his car to the rear of the No. 7 Porsche driven by Bernhard, but he had to settle for the runner-up spot at the checkered flag.
Pole sitter David Brabham was impressive in the No. 9 Highcroft Acura ARX-01a and raced with the leaders in the first hour of competition. A strange incident on the driver exchange between Brabham and Stefan Johansson knocked out the fuel system for over a minute and the team had to settle for fifth overall, fourth in the LMP2 class.
The No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola, with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, started seventh and finished sev- enth. The Lowe's car never handled well on the bumpy Hous- ton track but col- lected valuable points Saturday.
Lone Star Grand Prix Alms
LMP2 Class (TV, CBS-TV, April 29, 1-3 p.m.)
1. Penske Porsche No. 7
2. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01a No. 26
3. Penske Porsche No. 6
4. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01a No.
7. LOWE's FERNANDEZ ACURA Lola No. 15
Upcoming: Utah Grand Prix
Date: May 18-19, 2007
Location: Miller Motorsports park
Track Type: 4.5-mile, 24-turn road circuit
Race: Round 5 of 12 Races, 5 p.m. American Le Mans Series
Distance: 2 hour, 45 minutes
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX- 01a): "That was lot of work out there. I was able to get close to the Porsche (No. 7) for the lead. But getting close and passing are two different things. The XM Acura was a very good car today. We didn't change tires on the last pit stop and the hot tires picked up some rubber on the yellow flag laps. So I wasn't able to get a good restart. Finally when the tires came back in, we had a rocket ship. The Michelins had a lot of life left in them. The car was fast and we raced right to the front. We fought our way back from starting fifth and Marino had a lot of traffic to deal with early in the race. He did a good job to get through the lapped cars. Today's race was a good one for the XM Acura team. They knew we were here in Houston."
MARINO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "Our XM car was fantastic today. It was much better on our own rather than in traffic. But the Acura felt very good. The grip level of the track was better but the track is still very bumpy. You get knocked around inside the car so much here. It is so physical on a driver. The traffic didn't flow very good for me out there. I was right there when the No. 61 spun and then with one of the Panoz cars. I was able to get a rhythm in the middle of the stint and I was able get back up towards the leaders. Now we want to get Bryan [Herta] in position to race for the top position. I think Bryan might have something for the Porsches and Audis. Bryan ran a great race today. The XM machine was so good all day and Bryan got into posi- tion to race the Porsche heads up. The Porsches are fast on the straight but our car really handles well. This is a good race for our team as we lead into the summer months of racing."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "I couldn't hold off Allan [McNish] at the start. He just powered by me. For some reason, it takes us some time to get our tires up to temperature. So we lost a little time to the Audis and the Porsches. But I was pleased with the car when we got in rhythm. The car was very consistent and it felt good. Of course, this track is pretty bumpy and that unsettles the car in the corner. Is it amazing that we don't have any caution periods in the first half of the race? We usually have a couple full course yellows. It is strange on a circuit like this one. I couldn't figure out happened with the car when I pitted. Everything was okay. But something shut off in the driver exchange with Stefan and myself. I haven't seen that happen before. It is easy to do when you are trying switch drivers and buckle the belts. But that was a shame because the car was good."
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "It was very weird on our pit stop. Somehow when David jumped out of the car or when I jumped in or when they handed me the drink bottle, we hit the fuel sys- tem shutoff. So I tried to start the car and nothing happened. Then we finally figured it out but we lost a lot of time. David ran well, in the top three for his stint. Our Acura was really good. It handled the bumpy track well. We lost that lap and we couldn't get it back. We were close but had to settle for fifth overall, fourth in class. We got some more points. That was good."
LUIS DIAZ: (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola B06/40): "The Lowe's Acura felt pretty good in the early stages of the race. But I was behind the Dyson car [No. 20] for so long and he [Chris Dyson] seemed like he was blocking me. We lost a lot of time fol- lowing that car. I know he was blocking Marino [Franchitti] too. Once I got by the Dyson car, we were able to pull out and run some good laps. I thought Adrian [Fernandez] might get the car in contention."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fer- nandez Acura Lola B06/40): "We just didn't have the car today. When we run on bumpy tracks the car slides around and we can't get any grip. This car is made for the smooth and fast circuit in Europe and we knew that coming in. We have to continue to develop the Lola for the American tracks. We are going to smooth tracks now and I feel good about our chances in the next couple of races. It was just a tough race for us today."