Exciting new Top Class Challenge for de Ferran Motorsports at Sebringde Ferran Motorsports enters exciting new territory when the 2009 American Le Mans Series blasts off in Florida on Saturday 21 March. The Indianapolis based race team debuts its new no.66 XM Radio Acura ARX-02a prototype in the world famous Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring having stepped up to the premier LMP1 category since the conclusion of the 2008 campaign.
The spectacular day-night season-opener marks the latest major milestone for de Ferran Motorsports – the ambitious new outfit founded by former Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART Champ Car champion Gil de Ferran.
After being chosen by Acura to race one of its Acura ARX-01b prototypes in the LMP2 class, the team made its first appearance at the Salt Lake City round in May 2008. Despite missing the start of last year’s ALMS – and thus the 2008 running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – de Ferran and his impressive young French team-mate Simon Pagenaud were quickly to the fore. Sharing the driving duties, the pair took four front row grid positions (including one pole position), led six races and scored three podium finishes from just eight starts in what was a momentous debut season.
Now, having earned its spurs in LMP2, de Ferran Motorsports has advanced to the pace-setting LMP1 class as one of just two teams running brand new 4-litre, V8-engined Acura ARX-02a prototypes.
“While it’s a huge honor to be representing Acura in the top LMP1 class, it’s also a big task and an enormous responsibility,” explains team owner and race driver Gil de Ferran. “So much has happened that, at times, it’s hard to remember that we are not yet a year old. First we had to put the team together from scratch; then we had to race against proven rivals in what’s widely reckoned to be the toughest sports car series in the world. And there’s been no rest over the winter. Since the end of last season, we’ve been flat out on the LMP1 program. It has been 24/7 for almost 12 months.”
And the challenges just get bigger and bigger. At Sebring de Ferran Motorsports not only faces stiff opposition from the ALMS regulars but also from the top European teams fielding diesel prototypes as part of their preparations for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
“In theory, recent rule changes should ensure that gasoline powered cars are more competitive with the turbocharged diesel machines that have been dominating sportscar racing in recent years,” continues de Ferran. “The XM Radio Acura ARX-02a has shown plenty of potential during pre-season testing at Sebring and everyone involved in this project has done a lot of work to develop not only our reliability but also the performance the brand new Acura. However we are under no illusion over the size of task facing us. But that doesn’t mean, though, we won’t be doing everything within our powers to do well – we don’t go racing to finish second or third!”
As in 2008, the 41-year-old Brazilian will be sharing the no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a with Simon Pagenaud in all ten rounds of the ALMS championship.
“My aim is to win some races in 2009 and perhaps the championship,” says the 24-year-old Frenchman. “I’m pretty happy with the progress we’ve made with the XM Radio Acura ARX-02a, especially at the most recent test. The car is becoming more and more reliable and, I think our pace may be pretty good. As we know Sebring is very bumpy so it’s always a huge challenge for the durability of cars as well as a huge physical test for drivers.”
For the Twelve Hours of Sebring de Ferran and Pagenaud are joined by Scott Dixon, the reigning IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion. The 28-year-old New Zealander thoroughly enjoyed his first appearance for de Ferran Motorsports at Petit Le Mans last October. Now he is looking forward to rejoining the team in Florida.
“To have more power and to be racing for overall wins as opposed to class honors makes a big difference,” says Dixon. “We’re now on a world stage trying to beat teams that have been doing this for a long time. That only adds to the challenge because I always race to win. I’ve now won a championship, the 500 plus a 24-hour race – and I’d definitely like to add the Twelve Hours of Sebring to those. It’s a hugely prestigious event not only in America but also right around the world.”
Staged at the legendary 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway, the oldest permanent road racing track in North America, the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring features qualifying on Thursday 19 March with the race starting at 10:30am on Saturday 21 March.