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American Le Mans Series Acura Teams Test
It’s Springtime in Utah. The trees are blooming, the flowers are blossoming and extraordinary sports cars are returning to Miller Motorsports Park. On Wednesday, all four Acura LMP2 teams arrived to test for the fourth round of the American Le Mans Series, the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels, scheduled for May 16-18.

Andretti-Green Racing, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing, Patr¢n Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports spent a blustery day testing Michelin tire compounds, aerodynamic and suspension settings and engine management settings in advance of the race. This year, for the first time, the series will be running the 3.048 mile Outer Course instead of the 4.5-mile Full Course, making testing critical.

For de Ferran Motorsports, owned by two-time Champ Car titlist and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, the test was particularly important, since his brand-new team will make its series debut at Miller Motorsports Park. The team was formed earlier this year, and de Ferran has had to purchase a car, hire a team and co-driver, obtain a shop and transporter and find sponsorship. With that out of the way, all that’s left is getting the car ready to race. In addition to data collection, de Ferran and co-driver Simon Pagenaud spent the day learning the tricky Miller circuit and getting to know their new car.

De Ferran, who hasn’t raced since 2003, said that returning to action as both a team owner and driver was a lot of work, but that he was enjoying himself.

“I’m having a great time, not only behind the wheel, but also outside of the cockpit,” he said. “It’s been a really fun project.”

The affable Brazilian, making his first visit to Miller Motorsports Park, was very complimentary about the facility.

“I have to say it’s a world-class facility,” he said. “I have been to a lot of racetracks in the world, in Europe, Asia and South America, and certainly this racetrack is one of the best I have ever come across.”

Christian Fittipaldi is one of the drivers for Andretti-Green Racing, and has driven Daytona Prototypes at Miller Motorsports Park the past two years with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. This year, he is looking forward to tackling the circuit in the very fast and sophisticated Acura ARX-01b.

“These cars are very quick in the corners,” he said. “There is a lot of downforce compared to the Grand-Am cars. They’re a lot quicker. They have very similar speed on the straightaway, but in the corners you’re braking a lot deeper, you’re carrying a lot more speed and pulling a lot more lateral g’s than you do in the Grand-Am cars. When I went out today, in the first couple of laps I said, ‘Wow, these cars brake really late and go really quick through all the corners!’”

Patr¢n Highcroft Racing comes into the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix on a roll, having scored their first win in the previous round at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Co-drivers Scott Sharp, a former Trans-Am and Indy Racing League champion, and world-renowned sports car ace David Brabham were brimming with confidence but not content to rest on their laurels.

“To get the first win this year for Acura, it’s a big accomplishment,” Sharp said. “As strong as the Penske cars (LMP2 Porsches) have been, though, we need to keep pushing.”

Like de Ferran, Sharp has never raced at Miller Motorsports Park before, but finds it very enjoyable.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s one of those tracks that just naturally feels very good to me. I love the flow of it, I love the challenges and I love the high-speed corners, which are pretty rare these days. I think it has a really good mixture, and I can’t wait to come back for the race.”

Joining the American Le Mans Series for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels will be the SPEED World Challenge Championship, the STAR Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, the IMSA Lites presented by Hankook Tires, the IMSA Challenge by Michelin, and the first of this year’s “Magic of Miller” Celebrity Races.

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