De Ferran, Pagenaud Go For 5th Straight
Veteran driver Gil de Ferran comes to Road America this weekend for the Time Warner Road Race Showcase with plenty on his mind.
The 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion is at the top of his racing game after four consecutive American Le Mans Series overall victories in the No. 66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car. He and young French star Simon Pagenaud go for five in a row this Sunday, August 16.
But, after winning the pole last weekend at Mid-Ohio, de Ferran announced he will step away from the cockpit at the end of the 2009 racing season. The 41-year-old racer will concentrate on the management of his de Ferran Motorsports team and possible expansion of his organization.
De Ferran isn’t thinking of retirement when he competes with Pagenaud in the Time Warner Road Race Showcase sports car event on the legendary Road America four-mile circuit this Sunday. Gil has a fondness for the Road America area, as he was a foreign exchange student in Wisconsin in high school. He annually brings his family [wife Angela, daughter Anna and son Luke] to the track.
But, despite his pending retirement and traveling with his family, de Ferran is focused directly on winning at Road America. In eight starts [7 in CART and one in ALMS], Gil’s best finish is third in CART in 1997. Pagenaud, with four wins and three poles in 2009, also seeks his first Road America win.
De Ferran returned to driving last year after exiting the cockpit in 2003. He came back as team owner and driver with his Acura prototype team but didn’t record a win in 2008. However, this year has been much different with the new Acura ARX-02a LMP1 sports car with wins at Long Beach, Utah, Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio.
De Ferran’s prime challengers this weekend will be the current LMP1 point leaders, David Brabham and Scott Sharp in the potent Patr¢n Highcroft Acura ARX-02a. After victory at St. Petersburg, the Patr¢n duo have had to settle for second to de Ferran and Pagenaud the last four races.
While de Ferran’s squad has been winning in LMP1 , the Lowe’s Fernandez Acura pair of Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez have been dominating the LMP2 division with five class wins and six poles.
Both drivers are veterans of Road America with Fernandez the most experienced dating back to the Indy Lights in the early 1990s. Fernandez’ best finishes were second in CART in 2000 and third in 2001.
This year, the popular Mexican stars have notched wins at Sebring, St. Pete, Long Beach, Utah and last weekend at Mid-Ohio. The Lowe’s team has scored the LMP2 pole position in each of the first six ALMS races. But, the new speed of the Dyson Racing Mazda cars have put pressure on the Lowe’s contingent. They are preparing hard for a tough race at Road America this weekend.
GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "The Mid-Ohio race was so emotional for me. I knew I would be announcing my driving retirement there, but there were some emotional scars from last year’s race with the pit fire. Jonesie [crewman Keith Jones] was seriously injured last year and we wanted to win the race for him. To win in my last race at Mid-Ohio was just great and I would love to win at Road America this week. That place is one of the best road circuits in the world. So winning there is important to me.”
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “The new Acura sports car is one of the most advanced cars in the world. Driving it is just a thrill. Our XM Radio Acura team has produced a strong effort this year and winning races has been tremendous for us. Now, we are going to one of my favorites circuits, Road America, and I can’t wait to get there. Winning five in a row would be special.”
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “The Road America circuit is one of my favorite around the world. And, with this new Acura, the race will be very fast. 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. We had damage at Mid-Ohio. I am confident about our chances this weekend. Gil’s team has four straight wins. Now we want one. We won the LMP2 class last year at Elkhart Lake. So winning the overall would be huge for us.”
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 Road America. 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 great track like Road America 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. Winning at Mid-Ohio was great for the team. The crew had excellent strategy. Coming to Road America is always exciting for me. I have done well in CART and in Grand-Am there, so winning in the ALMS would be a big thrill for us.”
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. Road America is great track to drive. 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.”