Acura Teams Ready For 2008 ALMS After A Year Of Experience

4/29/2008 9:58:00 PM

The Acura-supported sports-car teams knew that 2007 was going to be a learning experience.

The Acura organizations from Andretti Green Racing, Highcroft Racing and Lowe's Fernandez Racing entered the 2007 American Le Mans Series as relative rookies on the tough, 11-event road-racing tour.

The Andretti Green operation is one of the most successful in motor racing in the past five years, having captured the world's biggest race, the Indianapolis 500, in 2005 and 2007, as well as IndyCar Series drivers' championships in 2004, 2005 and 2007. The Indianapolis-based team, coowned by Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, brought a solid group of professionals to the new Acura program after its open-wheel racing triumphs.

Lowe's Fernandez Racing also entered the ALMS after compiling an impressive open-wheel record and brought along an experienced crew for the 2007 season. As the Acura engine-development team, the Lowe's contingent, co-owned by Adrian Fernandez and Tom Anderson, utilized the proven Lola chassis rather than the new Acura ARX-01a prototype car.

With the new ARX-01a chassis in 2007, Highcroft Racing, owned by Duncan Dayton, was called upon to lead the development process of the all-new car. Highcroft had the most sports-car experience of the three Acura teams and the Danbury, Conn.-based group worked countless hours to produce a chassis that would be a top contending car.

With a new chassis and new sports-car engine, the Acura squads had to play "catch-up" from the first test and prepare to battle experienced manufacturers such as Audi, Porsche, Mazda, Chevrolet and Ferrari.

The Acura contingent expected teething trouble early in Acura's rookie campaign. Little did they think winning the LMP2 class at the prestigious Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring was a possibility. Finishing was the goal.

But when Bryan Herta guided the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a into Sebring's Victory Lane, the impossible became true. Acura had won in its debut race. Herta, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan drove the Andretti Green-prepared machine to the win, followed by the Lowe's Acura Lola of Fernandez and Luis Diaz in one of the most grueling races on any motorsports schedule. It was a 1-2 Acura finish, with the Highcroft team of David Brabham, Stefan Johansson and Dayton coming in fourth.

While the Sebring win was the only one for Acura in 2007, nine other podium finishes assisted the three operations in preparing for a title run in 2008.

The Acura learning process continued through the 2007 season, with the focus squarely on the 2008 campaign. Already in 2008, Acura has announced the formation of a fourth team, with former Indy 500 winner and CART champion Gil de Ferran returning to the driver's seat by mid-season. De Ferran's new effort will be operated by veteran racing executive John Anderson.

Herta and Christian Fittipaldi make up the driver lineup for the Andretti Green team, with Brabham and open-wheel veteran Scott Sharp serving as Highcroft's pilots. Fernandez and Diaz return in the Lowe's Acura.

Acura's sports-car goals are much different in 2008. Winning the LMP2 class championship is at the top of every team's list.