De Ferran Motorsports reveal Panasonic and Pagenaud
Team owner and driver, Gil de Ferran, will team up with 23-year-old ex-Champ Car Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud for the remainder of the 2008 American Le Mans Series, starting at the fourth round of the championship – the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by Grand & Little Hotels.
de Ferran Motorsports also announced it is in the process of completing a sponsorship contract with Panasonic which will utilize its association with the team to promote their relationship with Acura and the ELS Surround premium audio system which is available on the Acura TL, Acura RDX, Acura MDX and the all-new Acura TSX.
“Considering this started as a conversation about a potential race team only a few months ago, it is quite emotional to witness what has happened and see it become reality,” said de Ferran. “I was in the workshop last week and all our mechanics, engineers and technicians were there – in all we had more than 20 people working incredibly hard inside a facility, which a couple of months ago was just an empty building. Now, not only have we begun testing, but we have also gained the support of an internationally recognized company like Panasonic, and secured Simon’s as our driver – all major endorsements for our nascent team.”
Today’s announcement takes place at the Long Beach Grand Prix, where the final-ever race for Champ Car machinery will run this weekend alongside the Patron Tequila American Le Mans Series event. The team will also undertake an additional test session at Sebring at a later date, with de Ferran and Pagenaud behind the wheel, before making its American Le Mans Series race debut on May 18.
Poitiers-born Pagenaud joins de Ferran Motorsports after competing for Walker Racing in the 2007 Champ Car World Series, where he finished eighth in his rookie season. Previously, the Frenchman clinched the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship while also competing for Walker. His new team boss also drove for Walker Racing between 1997 and 1999.
“This goes beyond just his on-track results, which, of course, have been very impressive; it is about the overall package – how he works with the team, his work ethic, fitness, how he works with sponsors, etc.”
Pagenaud, who will become the youngest driver in the Acura American Le Mans series line-up, is clearly delighted with his employment. “I am really thrilled to be given this opportunity,” he enthused. “It is not every day that a two-time CART Champion and Indy 500 winner calls and says he wants you to be his co-driver. At this stage of my career, it is an outstanding opportunity and I can’t wait for the first race.
Joining de Ferran Motorsports and Acura is sponsor, Panasonic’s ELS Surround system, which was developed in conjunction with multiple Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer Elliot Scheiner and is available on the Acura TL, Acura RDX, Acura MDX and the all-new Acura TSX.
“Panasonic ELS Surround is pleased to be a part of the new Acura ALMS team led by a champion, Gil de Ferran. ELS Surround is focused on technology, innovation and authenticity to create a world-class audio experience for Acura vehicle owners. These themes are aligned with the goals of the American Le Mans Series to provide a world-class racing experience which explores the boundaries of technology” said Vince Sarrecchia, President, Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America.
Acura debuted in the American Le Mans Series last year, taking a class victory on debut at the Twelve Hours of Sebring and welcomes de Ferran Motorsports to its fold as the fourth factory-supported squad to tackle the LMP2 class championship.
Gil de Ferran is no stranger to the Honda/Acura family. He won both of his CART championships with Honda power and was recently based in the UK as the Sporting Director for the Honda F1 Racing Team.
“Gil de Ferran’s association with our racing programmes goes back more than a decade,” said John Mendel, Executive Vice President, Auto Operations for American Honda. “His expertise as a driver, and now as a team owner, will bring numerous and immeasurable benefits to the Acura American Le Mans Series effort. We look forward to witnessing many successful results from the de Ferran Motorsports team in the coming months and years."
SIMON PAGENAUD Q&A
How excited are you to secure this drive with de Ferran Motorsports?
“I am really delighted to get this opportunity; it is not every day that a two-time CART Champion and Indy 500 winner calls and says he wants you to be his co-driver. At this stage of my career, it is an outstanding chance and I can’t wait for the first race.
“I am so proud to be part of the Acura family now. At 23, I am the youngest driver on the Acura American Le Mans Series roster so this is an excellent opportunity for me. I have been looking forward to a chance like this for a long time and being part of a manufacturer programme is just outstanding. Looking ahead the future looks very bright but it will be up to me to do a very good job and repay the faith that Gil and Acura have shown in me.”
Have you any previous experience in sportscars?
“I did some testing for Creation Sport in Europe with their LMP1 car at the beginning of February this year. It was a really interesting experience because the driver has to be a lot more involved with the team and you have to share more – especially amongst your co-drivers. I think I am mature enough now and I am looking forward to working closely with Gil and the whole team.
“I think it is going to be important for Gil and me to get used to the car and develop a set-up that suits us both. We are going to have to try to not be too selfish; it is not just about our own individual performance - it is what we achieve together. It will be vital to develop a good consistent race car; this is more important than just the qualifying pace
What will be some of the key things you will have to learn as a sportscar driver?
“There will be lots of new things – not least traffic with the four different classes - that I will have to get used to. But the most important thing for us will be patience. We don’t want to throw a race away because we are trying to dangerously sneak past a GT2 car. Traffic is also a very important factor, but it is also very exciting as well – it is something I am looking forward to. This may be a new team, but there is great depth of experience amongst our guys.”
Have you had a chance to take a look at any American Le Mans Series races this year?
“I went to Sebring and took a close look at what was going on – all the passing, the pits-stops, it was really interesting. There were lots of safety car periods as well, but I became used to that last year in Champ Car. Overall, I don’t think I am going to find it too new for me and I can’t wait to get out there.”
“Definitely, as a Frenchman that is certainly the race I want to win one day. Our aim at the moment is the American Le Mans Series, but it would be great if Acura decided to tackle the Le Mans 24 Hour in future years. If they told me they were going to do it, I would be the happiest guy in the world but at the moment, I am going to concentrate on our existing goals here in the US. I have been based here in the US for the past three years, and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for me at de Ferran Motorsports.”
What is it like to play a part in the building of an entirely new race team?
“I am really happy to join the team; I think it is going to be a fantastic combination with Gil. He is the type of person who doesn’t do anything at less than 100 per cent so I think it is going to great. We have a lot of excellent guys on the team including a few people I know from various Champ Car teams. I have seen the shop with absolutely nothing inside and now we have a complete race team ready to roll so it is a very exciting time to be a part of this project.
It is great to start from basically nothing and I am looking forward to playing a part in that building process which I know will lead to on-track success. As a young driver I feel I have the chance to really grow and mature with this team.”
“For me, there will be a few new race tracks to learn, but I am really looking forward to that – especially our first race at Salt Lake City. I have experience at places like Road America and Laguna Seca but I am very excited about the schedule. It is a great mixture of different types of tracks.”
GIL DE FERRAN Q&A
The de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01B is now ready to hit the track, how much testing will you undertake before your first race at Miller Motorsports Park?
“We are trying to do as much testing as possible prior to our debut at Salt Lake City. We began the testing programme in Sebring last Monday and will return back to Florida for a second test before our race debut. Hopefully we will have an opportunity to run at Miller Motorsports Park before the race as well. de Ferran Motorsports is in a different situation from other teams, because we are not only looking at getting the car up to speed, we are also working at training the crew on pit stops, learning more about the Acura ARX-01B and gelling together as a team. We have an extensive list of tasks that we will be looking to complete during the testing programme.”
“Considering this started as a conversation about a potential race team only a few of months ago, it is quite emotional to witness what has happened and see it evolve, develop and become reality. I was in the workshop last week and we had all our mechanics engineers and technicians there – we had more than 20 people working incredibly hard inside a facility which didn’t exist a couple of months ago. The car was nearly finished, the new truck had arrived and it suddenly it really hit me – wow, this is for real. All our guys on the team have pulled out a superhuman effort to pull all this together. This would not have been able to happen without all their hard work.”
How did you decide on Simon Pagenaud as your co-driver?
“Simon has a very good reputation in the industry - that was the first thing that attracted me to him. That goes beyond just his on-track results which of course have been very impressive. It is about the overall package – how he works with the team, his work ethic, fitness, how he relates with sponsors, etc. My old friends at Walker Racing spoke very highly of him - he won his Atlantic championship with them in 2006 and was very impressive in Champ Car last year.
As a team we can develop together. For de Ferran Motorsports, it is also important to have some young talent on board. I am looking forward to getting back behind the wheel but I won't be driving forever. Simon has a very long career ahead of him and hopefully he will be with us for many years to come.
"We are very honoured to have Panasonic supporting our programme. Having partners of this calibre is a tremendous endorsement for our race team – particularly in the early stage of our development. It is also great for the American Le Mans Series to welcome another high quality brand like Panasonic – it is a great to see companies like this recognise the potential of this series and the benefits it can provide. We will be working very hard to enable Panasonic to use our race team as a valuable marketing tool to promote the ELS Surround sound system."
"Personally, I have very much enjoyed the design process of the livery of the car and our entire corporate image.
"Using the number 66 is very special for me. It is a number I have several connections with. I was number 6 through all the years I was racing with Penske but Roger is using that number in the American Le Mans Series at the moment.
How difficult has it been to create an entirely new race team from scratch? Have you been pleased with the personnel you have been able to recruit?
“We have been very fortunate that our programme seems to have generated quite a bit of interest within the industry.
"I suppose I am flattered to be called intelligent and not sure whether I really deserved that nickname as I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes over my career. I can also only speak about sportscar racing at the moment as an outsider, because we haven't started a race yet – but my impression is that it is becoming long sprint events, rather than endurance races where you have to nurse the car. The technology in the car, the tyres and the engine means that nothing really goes off – so you really have to go flat out – you have to push as hard as you can for as long as you dare. In many ways they are like very long single seater races. With single seaters when I was racing before you had to nurse the brakes, look after the gearbox – that does not seem to be the case now. You certainly have to be smart in how you approach traffic and car set up, but you have to be able to push very hard all day.
"I've been keeping an eye on sportscar racing for a while and you can really see the transformation over the past few years. The fact you don't really need to nurse the car anymore is not just a factor in sportscar racing, it is becoming common in all forms of motorsport. The technology is just getting better and better. In F1 cars back in the 80s you had to look after the car, now you basically run flat out at qualifying pace for two hours. This will continue to be the case because you can not stop evolution."
"As we are getting closer to hitting the track, my time split has been shifting. Obviously getting the team set up has taken a huge amount of my time, but now I am starting to concentrate on becoming a racing driver again. I have been working very hard on my fitness – both physical and mental fitness to prepare myself to get back behind the wheel.
"Having to share the car is all part of the learning process both as drivers and as a team. We have a lot of boxes we have to tick and this is certainly one of them. This will be very new for both Simon and I. That was why in selecting a driver, it was important we found somebody who could get on well, not just with myself, but with the entire team.
"I've always had a very good relationship with some of these guys and it is funny now that most of them are now driving Acuras. We have been talking quite a bit about sportscar racing, but mostly about generalities, rather than specifics. All the guys have been very supportive and wishing me the best of luck – but probably not too much luck – you'll have to ask them about that! I am looking forward to racing against some old friends again."
"I don't really have any specific goals for our first year. I know what my long term objectives are, which is to create a winning operation with winning drivers and crew. That is what we have our sights set on. However, the way I operate, I really try not to daydream. It is really a big picture objective, but we have to keep our eye on the ball and concentrate on the issues that we will have to face. We'll navigate those waters carefully. The road to nirvana is not always a straight line. To walk that road well, you really have to be paying a lot of attention on the day-to-day and concentrating on each decision you make. I just to need to start running and make judgements on a day to day basis."
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