The grueling battle for Saturday's prestigious Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring title began Wednesday when the American Le Mans Series cars hit the legendary airport surface at Sebring International Raceway for practice. The 57th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring starts at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) Saturday.
The test of man and machine on the rough, 3.7-mile road circuit has made the Sebring classic one of toughest and most prestigious racing events in the world. Second only to the Indy 500 in longevity for a major auto race in North America, the 12 Hours of Sebring will feature a sensational LMP1 shootout between established sports-car giants Audi and Peugeot and upstart Acura, which debuts its new LMP1 effort this weekend.
In Wednesday's practice, the two Acura ARX-02a prototype cars from Patrón Highcroft and de Ferran Motorsports began preparations by recording the fourth and fifth-fastest times in practice runs. David Brabham, the only ALMS driver to ever win races in all four classes of series competition, led the Acura contingent with a best time of one minute, 46.219 seconds and an average speed of 125.401 miles per hour. Brabham, a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, will team Saturday with 2007 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti and former IndyCar Series champion Scott Sharp in the bright green and blue No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura.
Defending Indy 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon paced the de Ferran Motorsports trio, which includes Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud, Wednesday in the No. 66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura with a time of 1:46.461 for a speed of 125.116 m.p.h. Stephane Sarrazin topped the practice charts with a speed of 127.198 m.p.h. in the Peugeot.
The new Acura ARX-02a, featuring an all-new chassis and a 4-liter, normally-aspirated V-8 engine, has been through several testing sessions but has yet to be raced. Acura joined the ALMS in 2007.
The Lowe's Fernandez team, which placed third overall at Sebring in 2007, posted the seventh-best speed overall on Wednesday with its Acura ARX-01b chassis in the LMP2 division. Luis Diaz clocked the team's best speed at 119.840 m.p.h. Qualifying is set for Thursday at 3:15 p.m. [EDT].
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "The learning process continues with the new Acura. Peugeot and Audi are no strangers to LMP1 and they have great speed. We are getting better each day but our speed isn't there just yet. Remember, it is a 12-hour race and getting to the finish is the most important. That is our goal for Saturday right now. This Acura car has lots of potential, though."
SCOTT DIXON (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "We just don't have the straightaway speed right now. The car is extremely fast in the corners. Faster than anything I have driven on a road circuit. The downforce is remarkable. But this is a new program and it takes time to get up to the speed of Peugeot and Audi. I think we are getting better every session here at Sebring. "
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "The Lowe's car is pretty good so far. The changes in the rules in LMP2 have made us a little slower. But our Lowe's team has been good here before and I expect us to be right in the fight for the LMP2 class win. It would be great place to win. We feel we'll be right there at the end."
57th ANNUAL MOBIL 1 12 HOURS OF SEBRING PRACTICE
1. Peugeot No. 08 - 1:44.718, 127.198 m.p.h.
2. Audi No. 2 - 1:44.933, 126.933 m.p.h.
3. Audi No. 1 - 1:45.894, 125.786 m.p.h.
4. Patrón Highcroft Acura - 1:46.219, 125.401 m.p.h. [David Brabham]
5. de Ferran XM Acura - 1:46.461, 125.116 m.p.h. [Scott Dixon]
7. Lowe's Fernandez Acura - 1:51.148, 119.860 m.p.h. [Luis Diaz] LMP2