Sebring de Ferran Race Report 16.30: after a grueling eight and a half hours of racing consistently in the top four at the tortuous Mobil1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the de Ferran Motorsports team called time after a suspension failure and a fuel leak was deemed too severe to be fixed in the paddock. The disappointment was more pronounced after the exhilaration of Thursday afternoon (19th March) when the brand new no.66 XM Radio Acura ARX-02a made its track debut with a superb pole position.
“Of course we are sorry to be leaving Sebring without a result,” said driver and team owner, Gil de Ferran, “but we are taking a number of positives from this experience and for our car to be on pole position and having given the Audis and Peugeots such a run for their money this weekend has been a huge achievement.”
The car certainly proved a force to be reckoned with at this opening round of the American Le Mans Series at the historic Sebring endurance race. With de Ferran at the wheel for the first stint the car ran without any problems lapping consistently in the mid 1.45s and improving at every turn.
“Everything was OK in my first stint in the car,” said de Ferran. “I didn’t expect to hang on to the lead at the start as the Audis are quicker on the straights, but we were aiming for consistency and to just keep pushing at our pace. It was hot and windy out there so the car was sliding around a little, but in general I was happy with our pace and progress.”
In the hands of a strong trio of drivers - de Ferran was joined by his regular ALMS team mate, young French star Simon Pagenaud and reigning IndyCar Champion New Zealander Scott Dixon - the car showed real potential for a podium position and appeared to be improving on every lap.
“The car felt great,” said Simon at the end of the third hour. “It just gets quicker and quicker. This is a brand new car and we have had a really tight schedule to make it on the grid today, so to start from pole and run at the head of the field for so long is fantastic. I did a triple stint on the same tires and the grip was still very good at the end of the session.”
Dixon, who drove the car to pole on Thursday, took over the driving duties in the fourth hour and was also delighted to report improvements on every lap.
“I have said from the outset that this car seems to get quicker and quicker the longer it runs,” said Dixon. “We have always known that this weekend would be a huge challenge for a brand new car, but it has responded to everything we have thrown at it so far. It is a very physical car to drive and around here the debris and the bumps are notorious. The wind is also a real factor in turns 15 and 16 and that has caused some handling issues. But in general it has been very encouraging.”
The first sign of a problem appeared at the half way point when de Ferran was at the wheel of the car. The rear of the skid plate came loose and the officials called the car into the pits. The team lost two laps while they investigated the problem. They rejoined with de Ferran at the wheel and handed over to Pagenaud who reported handling problems - later diagnosed as terminal suspension failure and a fuel leak. When the car headed off into the paddock on lap 251 it was running in a strong fourth place.
“We tried to fix the car in the paddock,” said de Ferran, “but the damage was too pronounced for us to continue to race. It is with great reluctance that we have decided to retire the car. I want to pay tribute to my whole team and everyone involved in the Acura motorsports program for the extraordinary effort to get this car onto the grid here at Sebring, win that historic pole position and run so effectively for three quarters of the race. It has been a huge achievement from everyone and they must all be very proud of themselves. It has been a first for Acura, a first for de Ferran Motorsports and we will head off to the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St Petersburg in two weeks time with a really competitive package.”
The Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was won by the Audi R15 of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dino Capello.