The trio of David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Stefan Johansson drove the No. 9 Patron Highcroft Acura ARX-01b to an overall fifth place finish Saturday in the 56th running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. The Patron entry scored fourth in the LMP2 division.
The overall runner-up finish of the Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b, with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, was excluded due to a part failure in post-race inspection. A seal in the engine air box failed following the team's impressive initial performance with the new ARX-01b chassis.
The Patron Highcroft Racing Acura started 11th Saturday on the 17-turn, 3.7-mile famed airport circuit and consistently moved into the top five spots. Only a few small problems kept the Patron team from a podium finish.
The defending Sebring LMP2 winning team, No. 26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b of Marco Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi and Bryan Herta, was a contender for the first six hours, with Andretti leading overall in the first two hours of competition. The 21-year-old Andretti, seeking to repeat his grandfather, Mario's, Sebring success, recorded blistering lap times as he drove from 12th on the first lap to first by Lap 44.
Fittipaldi and Herta kept the AGR machine in the top four for the first half of the classic race before overheating problems dropped their mount to seventh by the eighth hour. Finally, the heating issue forced the XM Radio car to be parked after 293 laps. The AGR Acura was awarded 19th.
The LMP2 Penske Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard won the Sebring event Saturday to become only the third non-premiere class team to win the overall title. The other winners were the Porsche in 1983 and the Nissan 1994.
The next American Le Mans Series event takes place on the streets of St. Petersburg on April 5 in the second annual Acura Sports Car Challenge.
HPD President Erik Berkman following the exclusion of the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b due to failure in post-race inspection: "With this design, which was carried over from last year, we have never failed a "stall" test for the duration of our participation in
the American Le Mans Series. A detailed analysis must be performed to determine root causes and appropriate remedies. We have let the supporters of our program down, and I particularly want to apologize to everyone in the Lowe's Fernandez organization who worked hard to achieve an excellent result today, and through no fault of their own had it snatched from their grasp."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "I feel pretty pleased with the result. We struggled a bit throughout the week so I thought if we finished in the top six it would be a great start to the year. To have achieved that in our first race this season is terrific. The car ran faultlessly the whole race - our only problem was that our pace was not great at the beginning. It picked up halfway through and onward through the end of the race, but then it was too late to make up the difference. This is a strong way to kick off the season."
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): " "Overall, the car was good, and we clocked some reasonable times in the end. The second stint was challenging, as I was fighting substantial understeer. The tires started coming in halfway through the run, and the track started gripping up. Overall, there was no major drama; we had a strong car."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): "That was just a really great run. I got very comfortable in the car and was able to turn some really consistent laps. It was a marked difference from the beginning of the day. It all came together for us there at the end. David, Stefan and I were really quick. We were just a little too far behind at that point. The Acura is the best car I have ever driven."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "Obviously, the XM Acura had a lot of speed early in the race. But, later on, we started struggling with the overheating and finally, we just couldn't control the temperature with the engine anymore. It hurts to not get a better finish here, but it's a long championship ahead. At this point, we just have to look forward to the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Pete and try to get a win there."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "It was very disappointing to have the day end like this because we obviously had a pretty solid car. For me, I had a pretty difficult first stint because of a tire choice we made that definitely wasn't the correct one at the moment. But, the car was still good and when we changed tires, I had a pretty competitive second stint. It's just disappointing, because this XM Acura team waited a whole year to come back here to try to win again. I've only been with them for a few months, but we were all so excited to come here and things just didn't go our way."
MARCO ANDRETTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): "It was awesome getting off to the start we did this morning. We showed the pace and I was having fun. But, then the overheating problems started to develop and set us back. It's unfortunate that the problems we had ultimately took us out, because the XM Acura team showed some serious promise. I had fun racing with these guys, but I wish it had ended differently."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "The Lowe's Fernandez Acura team did a fantastic job today. Luis [Diaz] and I drove the car to the limit for 12 hours. This was more like a sprint race than an endurance race. And it was just the two of us to drive the entire race. Many of the teams had three drivers. Luis and I spent the last month or so working out for this event. We really pushed today. We had just three tests with the new ARX-01b chassis so we were a little behind the other Acura teams. But we came back from the last test at Sebring and worked hard to put together a solid car. We ran the fastest race lap in P2."
LUIS DIAZ (No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b): "The Lowe's Acura was a great car today. The new ARX-01b chassis worked tremendously and I think Adrian and I were able to run times with the leaders in the middle and late portion of the race. I have to give the Lowe's Fernandez crew all of the credit for today's car. This race was more like a sprint race, and that is hard in a 12-hour race."
Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Results
American Le Mans Series Overall
1. Penske Porsche No. 7
2. Dyson Porsche No. 20
3. Audi No. 1
4. Dyson Porsche No. 16
5. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
19. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Acura Sports Car Challenge
Track: Streets of St. Petersburg
Date: Saturday, April 5, 2008
1:25 p.m. EDT
Distance: 1 hour, 55 minutes
TV: ABC-TV, 1 p.m. EDT