Pagenaud goes for 4th straight
Many racing media members and fans were surprised when former Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran named young French driver Simon Pagenaud as a driving partner for his new American Le Mans Series Acura team last year.
There was a long list of suitors for the coveted de Ferran Motorsports ride. But the veteran de Ferran had done his homework. The popular Brazilian legend had talked to racing people he trusted and interviewed dozens of potential drivers for the seat in the No. 66 Acura.
And he knew something about the 25-year-old racer who now lives in Indianapolis in the summer. Pagenaud had proven himself in Formula Atlantic, beating Graham Rahal for the 2006 title. And made some impressive runs in his rookie year of ChampCar. But teaming with de Ferran?
De Ferran was coming back to drive again after retiring from the IndyCar Series in 2003. He left as sporting director of the Honda Formula One Team and was seeking another racing challenge. He started his own racing effort and form a stellar lineup of engineers, mechanics and associates. But would Pagenaud be quick enough to pass the grade for a past champion like de Ferran?
It didn’t take long for the American Le Mans Series to witness the brilliance of Pagenaud.
His wheel-to-wheel battle with former IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan was spectacular last October at Laguna Seca, and, this year, Pagenaud has been sensational at the wheel of the new No. 66 XM Radio Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car.
After three straight overall wins, Pagenaud and de Ferran seek a fourth consecutive triumph on Saturday, Aug. 8, in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid Ohio Sports Course. Pagenaud also has three poles in 2009.
But de Ferran, the track record holder and last year’s pole winner, will qualify the Acura this time.
Challenging the de Ferran duo will be the fast Patr¢n Highcroft Acura pair of David Brabham and Scott Sharp, the current point leaders in the LMP1 class.
Brabham and Sharp, driving the all-new Acura ARX-02a prototype like de Ferran’s, one of the world’s most advanced racing machines, won at St. Petersburg.
If the two LMP1 Acura cars have trouble at Mid-Ohio Rock, a third Acura could be right in the mix for the overall win with the Lowe’s Fernandez Acura pair of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz in the LMP2 division.
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “The last few months have been very good for me. As a young driver racing with a champion like Gil de Ferran, I couldn’t ask for a better situation. Our new Acura is very fast and we have a super team. But I have won three ALMS races and poles, and a race and pole in the Le Mans series for Peugeot too. Four wins and poles since April. This has been a great ride right now. I think we have a good chance of keeping it going at Mid-Ohio. We were leading there last year when we had a pit fire. We want to avenge that.”
GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "It has been a blast to win three races in a row. I haven’t done that since my F-3 days in Europe. This new Acura machine is so state-of-the-art and it is exciting to drive such as great car. As a car owner, I am extremely proud of Simon and the whole team to score that kind of performance. But we are still 13 points for the championship lead, so we need to keep our heads down continue this streak. I love the Mid-Ohio track and we are ready for the race.”
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “The Mid-Ohio circuit is very physical on the drivers. And, with this new Acura, the race will be very, very tough. The car’s handling is so good. We were in position to win at Lime Rock but we had a puncture late in the race. It was difficult for the team to take. But I am confident about our chances in the upcoming race. Gil’s team has three straight wins. Now we want one.”
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “We won at St. Petersburg, and we were close to victory at Long Beach and Lime Rock. Our Patr¢n Highcroft team has put together a very good unit. We’ll have a good race car for Mid-Ohio. I have driven a lot of different cars at that track. This new Acura will be lightening fast. The handling of the new Acura on a tight track like Mid-Ohio will be tremendous. But it will be tough on the drivers physically. The G loads will be high with new car that features the same tires on all four corners. The downforce will be incredible.”
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “We thought we had a chance to win five races in a row at Lime Rock. But we had a mechanical malfunction. But the team was quick to get the car back into competition and still finished second. That finish kept our point lead pretty large still. Coming to Mid-Ohio is always exciting for me. I have won in CART and in Grand-Am there, so winning in the ALMS would be a great accomplishment.”
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “Our four-race win streak came to an end at Lime Rock. It was our first mechanical failure of the season. But our Lowe’s crew was very quick to change the shifting problem and we fought back to get second in the LMP2 class. That performance says a lot for the Lowe’s Acura team. They never give up. The Mid-Ohio circuit is a tough one for a driver. I always have to be prepared for the Mid-Ohio race. The heavy downforce from the Acura car gives us a lot of stress on our necks and bodies in general. Adrian and I have worked hard on our physical training this year. So I feel confident we will have a strong effort with the Lowe’s team.”