When Patr?n Highcroft Racing hits the track for official practice at Sebring next Wednesday, it will be the culmination of 201 days of intense preparation for the its debut in the LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series.

Now running the new Acura ARX-02a in place of its race-winning LMP2 model, after being confirmed as one of two squads - alongside de Ferran Motorsports - that would represent the Acura brand at the highest level of international sportscar competition. The vividly-coloured Patron-backed ARX-02a - with its radical design which features the same-sized Michelin tyres on all four corners - was officially unveiled at the recent 'Wheels Down' test at Sebring, and owner Duncan Dayton admits that he cannot wait for the season to begin.

''It has been a brilliant effort from our guys to get the car prepared, to get familiar with the new Acura ARX-02a and to learn what makes the car happy, what makes it fast and reliable,'' he revealed, ''It is a new car, new concept, new systems, so there's lots of key aspects to understand.

''We're going into the Twelve Hours on a bit of a high after a very successful endurance test, but I am under no illusions that success at Sebring won't be easy. It will certainly be a big challenge because of the quality of the opposition in Audi and Peugeot. The Peugeot is a well-developed three-year-old car that is very fast and Audi have a tremendous record of bringing out new cars at Sebring and doing very well with them.

''On top of that, racing a P1 prototype will be an entirely new experience for ourselves, de Ferran, Acura, HPD and Wirth Research - but it is a challenge we are really looking forward to. When we started our team, the goal was to compete at the highest level and Sebring will be a culmination of that dream. The next step is race wins, championships and success at Le Mans, but Sebring will indeed be a very important step for us.''

Regular pilots Scott Sharp and David Brabham will be joined by 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti for the season-opener, reuniting a partnership that captured the LMP2 class win at Sebring in 2007. All three drivers got the chance to try the new car during the recent Sebring test, although veteran Sharp admits that there is a big difference between testing and racing.

''The last couple of tests have been very productive,'' he admitted, ''but there is an art to winning a twelve-hour race, by spending as little time as possible in the pits. Our reliability, strategy and consistency of the car and the drivers will certainly be tested, but we have learned a great deal in a short space of time and we now enter race week having done the best possible preparation.

''There is a lot of excitement about the new Acura ARX-02a because it is such a radical design. We are learning more and more every time we run and moving in the right direction as we prepare for the first race of the year. Completing twelve hours at Sebring is certainly tougher than the 24 Hours at Daytona - and probably more difficult than Le Mans - as the track is very bumpy and quite narrow in places, so you have to be really careful in traffic. You have to get through the first eleven hours unscathed - you really can't think about the possibility of winning until then.''

Patr?n Highcroft Racing will take part in ALMS testing on Monday and Tuesday of Sebring week, before official practice kicks off on Wednesday [19 March], and Brabham's week is already looking busy as he kicks off the 50th anniversary of father Sir Jack Brabham clinching his first F1 world championship at the US Grand Prix at Sebring in 1959.

On Thursday of race week, the Australian will re-enact the event's famous finish, when his father ran out of fuel with half a mile remaining and had to push his car over the line to claim the title. Brabham Jr will also climb aboard the Cooper Climax T51 now owned by Ann Finn and undertake a parade lap on race day - the first time he will have driven one of his father's cars.

Brabs will not let the celebrations distract him from the job in hand, however, and remains focused on giving Patron, Highcroft and Acura a winning debut in the senior prototype class.

''I can't wait for the first race of the year - it has been a long off-season where we have worked very hard,'' he admitted, ''We have a huge challenge in front of us with Audi and Peugeot competing as well, and whoever can still be running strongly at the finish and spend the minimal amount of time in the pits should come out on top.

''We will still be learning a lot about the car, the set-up and the tyres throughout the race, but I am very much looking forward to it. All the guys at Patr?n Highcroft Racing, Acura, HPD, Wirth Research and Michelin have worked incredibly hard during the off-season - the fans only see the finished product on the grid, but the amount of effort that goes into making that happen is just incredible. The pressure is on, but our guys are responding to it in the best possible way and, if we are able to come away with a good result at Sebring, that will make it all the more satisfying.''

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment