for the Acura Sports Car Challenge
Fresh from its promising LMP1 debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, de Ferran Motorsports is gearing up for the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg (Saturday 4 April), round two of this year's American Le Mans Series. Set on the Florida waterfont near Tampa Bay, the popular venue is one of the most glamorous on the ALMS schedule.
Coming after the bumpy concrete and wide-open spaces of Sebring's famous old aerodrome, the tight streets of St. Petersburg provide another tough test for the new no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a prototype. The shorter one hour 55 minute duration of the race also creates its own unique intensities and challenges.
"It's going to be a hard race," says team owner and driver Gil de Ferran. "I've never raced at St. Petersburg and there is very little track time, so it's going to be a tough battle for us to come to grips with the circuit and to sort out the chassis set-up. That said I enjoy street circuits tremendously and they are one of my strengths as a driver. Moreover, it's a beautiful part of the country - Florida's answer to Monaco!"
The Fort Lauderdale-based de Ferran arrives at the Acura Sports Car Challenge encouraged by his team's recent debut at Sebring which saw the no.66 XM Radio de Acura ARX-02 take pole position and run with the more powerful diesel powered opposition for the first six hours.
"While we are disappointed not to have got to the end of the full 12 hours, everything was going to plan right up until our first unscheduled stop. We were still on the lead lap, track conditions were coming to us and the performance differential between our car and the diesels was decreasing. Certainly we proved that the Acura is the best handling sports car out there - that was one of the major goals of the program and those responsible for the Acura ARX-02 should be congratulated on their achievements. Obviously we'll miss not racing against the diesels, which were only in America for Sebring, but we'll still put on a great show in St Peterburg."
The Brazilian former Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART Champ Car Champion shares the no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a prototype with his promising young French team-mate Simon Pagenaud. He's another St. Petersburg rookie.
"I know it's a nice place as I've been there on vacation... but I have no idea about the track they build especially for this race," he says. "I'm looking forward to it, though, as like Gil I love street circuits and have been pretty successful on them in the past; so let's hope this is going to be another good one for me.
"However, although the opposition won't be quite as strong as it was at Sebring, it won't be easy as we've still got a lot to learn. Neither Gil nor I know the circuit and it's the first time we've driven an LMP1 car - with its wider front tires - on this type of track. To be competitive, the car needs to be very quick straight out of the transporter and then it's up to us to maximize the limited track time available. It's clear from what the team achieved at Sebring that the Acura ARx-02a has masses of potential; we must now take full advantage of these races so we're stronger the next time we face those more powerful rivals."
Two hours of pre-race practice and qualifying is scheduled for Friday 3 April with the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg timed for 1.20pm to 3.15pm on Saturday 4 April.