The new Acura ARX-01b prototype cars made their maiden voyage this week in American Le Mans Series winter testing at the famed Sebring International Raceway, in preparation for the 56th annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring set for March 15.
The defending Sebring champions in the LMP2 class, the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura team from Andretti Green Racing returned to the 3.7-mile, 17-turn road course with sensational speed from drivers Bryan Herta and Christian Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi, a longtime open-wheel racing star, moved to the AGR team this winter and quickly showed the speed needed to challenge the Penske Racing Porsche, the defending series winners.
Herta drove his mount to a speed of 127.413 miles per hour for the top LMP2 clocking of the three-day test.
Another new Acura driver, IndyCar Series veteran Scott Sharp, teamed with David Brabham and Stefan Johansson in the all-new No. 9 Patron Spirits Acura ARX-01b at Sebring, and the Highcroft trio recorded a best speed of 126.139 m.p.h. Sharp began his racing career in sports cars before a 14-year stint in open-wheel cars. Brabham and Sharp will be the regulars in the Patron Acura throughout the 12-race American Le Mans Series campaign, with Johansson driving at Sebring and Atlanta.
The popular Lowe's Fernandez team has returned to the ALMS trail with the new Acura ARX-01b chassis after campaigning the Lola in 2007. Veterans Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz are back in the cockpit of the No. 15 Lowe's Acura and timed in at a best speed of 125.877 m.p.h. in the team's first outing with the new car.
The two Penske Porsches, with drivers Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Sasha Maassen and American Patrick Long, continued to keep a strong pace with best speeds of 127.330 and 126.599 m.p.h., respectively.
Acura also made news off the track Tuesday with the announcement that the automaker will add a fourth Acura ARX-01b machine later in the 2008 season.
Former Indy 500 winner and two-time Champ Car champion Gil de Ferran will come out of retirement to serve as the primary driver and team owner for the de Ferran Motorsports entry. De Ferran, who recently served as Sporting Director of the Honda Formula 1 team, has hired veteran racing executive John Anderson to hold his team's general manager role. Most recently, Anderson was team manager for Dario Franchitti's Indy 500 and IndyCar Series championship run in 2007.
De Ferran's new team will announce a second driver and sponsorship partners in the near future and the Brazilian driver plans to compete in the American Le Mans Series before mid-season.
Testing will continue for the three other Acura teams in February as they make development changes for the upcoming 2008 season.
The campaign will get underway on March 15 with the 12 Hours of Sebring followed by the Acura Sports Car Challenge at St. Petersburg on April 5 and Long Beach Grand Prix on April 19.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "We went through all of the normal stages of a brand new car and first test - making the drivers comfortable. I think there is a lot of potential and I am encouraged by the results of the test. We definitely made the right switch to the ARX and we are very excited about the work that Acura and Nick Wirth [Wirth Research] have done."
LUIS DIAZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "It was a good first experience with this new car. The team did a tremendous job in preparing the ARX. This car is definitely more stable under braking and it doesn't seem to be as sensitive to changes in weather like last year's car. All three Acura teams are working together like one team to the develop the new ARX chassis faster. "
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "It feels great to drive a car like our XM Acura. The 'G' loads here at Sebring are very hard with these cars. But it is exciting to race at these speeds again. We had some mechanical issues during the test and the AGR guys will work on those problems. That is why we are here testing. I am still getting used to the car. Bryan [Herta] has been driving this car for a year and he knows in less than a lap what to change on the car. It is still a learning process with me. But I'm ready for the Sebring race."