French star targets victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Simon Pagenaud (pictured right) makes his Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring debut (21 March) racing for de Ferran Motorsports. The 24-year-old Frenchman joins Team Principal Gil de Ferran and reigning Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon in the new no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a. Here are his thoughts about the latest challenges faced by him and the team as well as his thoughts about the race itself.
Last year you joined de Ferran Motorsports to race its LMP2 class Acura ARX-01b in the final eight rounds of the 2008 American Le Mans Series. This year the team is stepping up to the premier LMP1 category with one of Acura's new Acura ARX-02a prototypes - how have your preparations been going?
"I'm pretty happy with the progress we've made, especially during the most recent test. The Acura ARX-02a is becoming more and more reliable and competitive. We haven't yet shared the track with either the Peugeot or Audi that will be our main opposition at Sebring, so it's hard to know exactly where we stand."
How does the new XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a compare to the LMP2 Acura you raced last season?
"It's clearly a step forward. There's not a huge difference in terms of engine power, but the levels of downforce are much larger and that makes a big, big difference in the high-speed corners. The wider front tyres require a slightly different driving style, too. When you get used to these changes, it's really quite exciting."
You've never raced at Sebring before. What are your first impressions of the famous Florida sportscar venue?
"As everyone will tell you, the circuit is very bumpy so the race is going to be a big challenge for the cars in terms of reliability and a big physical test for the drivers, too. It's hard to believe the amount of suspension travel when you look at the data. Although we are preparing for a 12-hour race, it will be harder on the cars than 24 hours at Le Mans. What's more, the layout means it's not an easy place to pass, so traffic is going to be another issue for those of us in faster cars."
Having switched to sportscars from open-wheelers, how are you enjoying life in the ALMS?
"I really do enjoy it. This is such a fun series - the best bit is all of the overtaking. With so many slower cars on the track, you have to concentrate all of the time and that's something I really enjoy. The cars are great to drive, too, and the technical aspect to them is unbelievable. It's very challenging mentally both on and off the track."
You made a good impression in 2008 with three podium finishes. What are your aspirations for 2009?
"It's difficult to know what's possible until we get to Sebring and see just how well the car performs compared to the opposition. Obviously when you go racing, you go for the win - so I'm definitely looking at winning some races this year and hopefully the championship as well."
What's it like to be sharing the no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a with two winners of the Indianapolis 500?
"I'm learning a lot from those guys and I'm really glad to have this opportunity. Happily I'm on the pace with them and that's something I'm really proud about. They have so much experience and have definitely taught me a thing or two about the technical aspects of the car that I didn't know in the past. And that's making me better and stronger every time I get out there on the track."
Finally, what are your hopes for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring? Can a rookie team fielding a new car realistically target overall victory?
"We may not be the favourites but we do have a chance of winning. If the Acura ARX-02a is quick enough over a single lap to compete against the Peugeots and Audis, we are still going to need to be reliable for the full 12 hours. That, of course, at this stage of our program is still a bit of an unknown."
About de Ferran Motorsports:de Ferran Motorsports was formed in 2008 by Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time (2000-2001) CART Champion. Based in Brownsburg, Indiana, de Ferran Motorsports will campaign an Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car in the LMP1 class in the 10-race 2009 American Le Mans Series. Led by general manager John Anderson, the 15-person organization will prepare and race the No 66 XM Radio Acura ARX-02a driven by de Ferran and past Formula Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud. The duo will be joined by 2008 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon for the first race of the year, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.