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Faces in the crowd at Sebring test
A collection of the American Le Mans Series’ new and returning faces gathered at Sebring International Raceway this week for the fourth annual Winter Test, a prelude to the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida. Each spoke to the challenge of America’s greatest sports car race and - in most cases - contesting the full American Le Mans Series season.

Patrick Long
Patrick Long, Penske Racing
Porsche RS Spyder (LMP2)
“I had some guest appearances in the RS Spyder program last year. This (full-time ride) is a very different role. Coming in as a third driver, I had to try to emulate myself to the setup of the car for the other drivers. Now I will have more input on the setup to my liking. This year, there are no excuses. It just means that I have to do more in the preseason. I have to be ready to start the run for the championship at Sebring.

“To come into Penske is a great, great honor; it’s the pinnacle for me. I’m only 26, and they’ve asked me to carry the Penske Porsche banner and carry on the winning tradition. I have to play my part in the team’s success. This is the opportunity of my career.”

Acura vs. Porsche?
“This is one of the huge hungers we have - win at Sebring. We’ve gotta get points on the board for the championship. We want to run up front and challenge the Acuras and the Dyson Spyders, but keep our eye on the bigger picture. It will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”

Tom Kristensen, Audi Sport North America
Audi R10 TDI (LMP1)
“Sebring certainly is a great event.  For me, for many years this has been my first race of the season.  It’s always exciting. Coming to Sebring, it’s a very tough circuit, and that’s why we test.  There are five different tarmacs (surfaces) and the tires have to work on all of them.  Michelin does a tremendous job of providing us tires that work everywhere.

“I go into 2008 not having been in a sports car since Le Mans 2007 (in June), so I’m a bit rusty.”

Driving this circuit compared to Le Mans?
“You start with a reliable car and a good team. Obviously, this type of circuit requires more downforce to deal with the bumps and the corners. At Le Mans, you set the car up for high speeds on the long straightaways, and have to keep in mind the chicanes.

“You have more traffic at Sebring because the circuit is shorter (than Le Mans), and it is a little more difficult to see the corners here in the last four to five hours of the night.”

Scott Sharp
Scott Sharp, Patron Highcroft Racing
Acura ARX-01b (LMP2)
“It’s been exciting. This is a fantastic opportunity, definitely a type of program I haven’t been involved in before. The car is fantastic. It’s really exciting to join the American Le Mans Series in a time of tremendous growth and the buzz of everything that’s going on.

“Patron will be a great sponsor. The demographics for them are perfect for their marketing efforts, and they will do a lot of promotions to create excitement.

“David (Brabham) and I are about the same size, and we like the car setup very similarly. That will make pit stops a little quicker as we shouldn’t have to make a lot of adjustments, and the feedback we give the crew will have the same baseline.”

Nic Minassian, Peugeot Sport
Peugeot 908 HDi (LMP1)
“Driving for Peugeot is great. They give you every tool you want. The car is competitive, but has not been reliable. That will be our battle all year.

“Sebring is a very rough track. I could hardly see the corners from the bumps. We are learning a lot. I like this place. It is very different from the European tracks.

“Hopefully, we will be back for the race (an announcement is expected by Feb. 15). It will be a great battle with Audi, Acura and Penske.”

Christian Fittipaldi
Christian Fittipaldi, Andretti Green Racing
Acura ARX-01b (LMP2)
“This is a great chance for me, and at the same time it is nice to be driving for Michael (Andretti). We were teammates for five or six years; now I have to shut up and follow my instructions because he’s the boss!

“The whole program (is) behind us; everyone involved will put forth a winning effort. We’re looking forward to it. So far, everything is looking pretty good. We’re very confident and happy to be where I am right now.”

Marino Franchitti, Dyson Racing
Porsche RS Spyder (LMP2)
When asked to compare the Acura and Porsche RS Spyder, he said, “I don’t think I’m going to do that. I’m going to keep that information to myself.

“I’m rusty, too, even more than Tom. I am getting used to the car and the testing has been good.

“When we look at the teams we’re up against from Acura and Penske, our team has made a lot of progress with the car over the winter, so there’s a lot of excitement and hope that we can take the fight to them.”

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