Acura pads its talent lineup for Petit LeMans Acura Motorsports will have one of the most prestigious driver lineups in American Le Mans Series history when the green flag drops Saturday, Oct. 4, at 11:15 a.m. (EDT) for the 11th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The list of talented drivers gives Acura a solid foundation in the manufacturer’s quest for its first ALMS engine, chassis, driver and team championships. With two races remaining in the 11-event series, Acura is in a tight battle with Porsche for the titles.
In Acura’s second season in ALMS racing, the car marque has been sensational in the second half of the 2008 ALMS tour with four LMP2 class wins in the last five races and two overall victories [Lime Rock and Detroit]. In addition, Acura drivers have totaled three overall pole positions in the last five events with the smaller-horsepower prototype machines.
Joining the Acura lineup for the Petit Le Mans will be current Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, the Kiwi who scored six IndyCar Series wins in 2008. Dixon will be a part of the strong three-driver effort at de Ferran Motorsports with regular pilots Gil de Ferran, the former Indy 500 and CART champion, and young Simon Pagenaud, a past Formula Atlantic champion.
Dixon, de Ferran and Pagenaud will drive the No. 66 Panasonic ELS Acura ARX-01b.
Not to be outdone by Dixon’s addition, the Patr¢n Highcroft Racing team, a four-time winner in 2008, has added the 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti to its successful duo of David Brabham and Scott Sharp in the No. 9 Patr¢n Highcroft Acura ARX-01b car. Franchitti drove the Andretti Green Acura to victory in the last year’s 12 Hours of Sebring and won the overall pole at Long Beach. The Petit event will be Franchitti’s first drive with the Patr¢n Highcroft squad.
Brabham has had a magical season with great come-from-behind wins in ALMS competition this year as well as a second class title at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Australian second generation racing star also has two overall poles with his four ALMS wins in 2008. Brabham, who won the inaugural Petit Le Mans in 1999, is the only driver in ALMS history to win races and poles in all four classes.
Former IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan, a Sebring winner last year with Franchitti, returns to the controls of the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b along with IndyCar series regular Marco Andretti and recent Detroit overall winner Franck Montagny. Montagny, a pole winner at Road America, has been lightening fast since he came to Andretti Green Racing at mid-season.
The No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura team, so competitive at this year’s Sebring race, expects to be in contention in the 10-hour endurance classic. Mexican driving stars Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz will be joined by another Mexican driver and former CART winner Michel Jourdain Jr. Fernandez, the open-wheel star from over a decade, is seeking his first ALMS win after success in CART, IndyCar Series, Indy Lights and Grand Am racing.
The Petit Le Mans race will be televised live on SPEED-TV beginning at 11 a.m. on Oct. 4.
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-0ba): “The Petit race is always special. I remember winning the first Petit. Now, the race has grown so much with so many good drivers and teams. Our Patr¢n Highcroft Acura team has had a great year but we are in a tough battle with Penske and Porsche for the championships. So this is a big race for us. As we are closing in on the championship, the team needs the strongest driver lineup paring available. Dario [Franchitti] brings this to the team. I also believe that Dario has a point to prove as he will want to end his season on a high.”
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): “We have won four races this year and we’re in a battle for the title right now. It’s great to have Dario joining our effort for Petit. He’s been quick in just about everything he has driven. Our crew, led by Duncan [Dayton] and Rob Hill, has been doing a great job of calling the right shot at the end of the races. Now we hope that will happen again.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b): “"I'm really excited to be joining Patr¢n Highcroft Racing for Petit Le Mans. I've been very impressed with David, Scott and the whole team this year so when Duncan approached me it was easy to say, ‘yes.’ It’s great to be back working with the Acura and HPD guys again. I was with for 10 years before I went to NASCAR. It is nice to be back with them. This is the first time I’ll race against my brother Marino. It will be great.”
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “Our Lowe’s Acura team has been fast all year, but we have had some bad luck. We were very strong at Sebring this year. We’ll use the same strategy to get us to the front. Petit is a long race but the pace will be fast. We’ll be ready.”
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “We had a good car last year at Petit. But some cars crashed in front of Luis and he had nowhere to go. Bringing in Michel [Jourdain Jr.] will be a big help for Luis and I since we all can go flat out from the start. Even though it is a 10-hour race, we drive it like it is a sprint. We did that at Sebring this year. So I expect the race to be very competitive.”
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “ I’m very excited to drive with Adrian and Luis in the Lowe’s Acura. The Petit race is a big one. I know the competition level is very high. I really enjoyed driving this Lowe’s Acura. It is a spectacular car. I’m pumped up.”
FRANCK MONTAGNY (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): “The win at Detroit was very good for everyone on the Andretti Green XM team. We had been close before and should have won a couple of the races earlier. But now driving with Tony and Marco, I believe we can win the Petit race also. We have a strong driver lineup and very good car. I expect our XM Acura to be right at the front all race.”
TONY KANAAN (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): “I have always enjoyed driving the XM Acura and I’m looking forward to the Petit race. Last year, I wasn’t able to get into the car since we were crashed out early. But winning at Sebring was one of my career highlights and we would love to add the Petit to my resume.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01b): “It is exciting to drive the XM Acura. The car has so much technology that it is a thrill for a driver. We were fast at Sebring and leading the race. But we had some difficulties that stopped our run. So we have a little something to prove. The XM team won at Detroit. I hope to continue the streak at Petit. I know Tony, Franck and I are prepared.”
SCOTT DIXON (#66 Panasonic ELS Sound de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b): “I can’t wait to drive the Acura. I have heard so much about the Acura ALMS car from a bunch of different drivers. I will test the car the week before Petit, so I am anxious to get behind the wheel. The competition will be fierce at Petit, but I am impressed with Gil’s team and strategy. Road Atlanta is a very fun track. It should be a blast with the Acura car. It is something I have been waiting to do.”
GIL de FERRAN (#66 Panasonic ELS de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b): “I think we have a good driver lineup with the addition of Scott. Simon was very fast at Detroit, and he had never seen the place before. So I think we have a great team for Petit. It is a tremendous event on a great track. It is a place I have wanted to race.”
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 Panasonic ELS de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b): “We had a strong car at Detroit and was part of an all-Acura podium. That was fun. With Scott coming on the team, we have a strong lineup for Petit. We’ll be in the fight for the win.”