The Patron Highcroft Racing team saw its first race with the new Acura ARX-02a come to a premature end at Sebring after transmissions issues forced the new LMP1 car out of the opening round of the American Le Mans Series.

David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti had run solidly in the event and were lying in fifth place when Brabham pitted on lap 302 with a tranmission issue, which would eventually prove terminal as the team was unable to get the car back on track. However, having completed 70 per cent of the race distance, the trio at least secured 18 points for a fifth place finish, which in theory will give the Acura squad the championship lead with neither Audi or Peugeot committed to a full ALMS campaign this year.

The pace of the new Acura had been shown by the de Ferran Motorsport team securing pole position, while Brabham started from fifth after the #8 Peugeot started from the pits. A solid opening stint followed before an incident with the GT2 Ford GT led to a loss of time.

Sharp then completed his first stint before the car was handed over to Franchitti, who was later given a penalty for speeding in the pitlane which was served by Brabham when he started his second stint.

With the pace of the car continuing to improve, Brabham then suffered a spin and had problems restarting the car due to an issue with the starter motor, but made it back to the pits to hand over to Sharp while the team replaced the rear bodywork on the Acura. Both Sharp and Franchitti completed their second stints although time was lost in the pits with a hydraulic leak.

Franchitti had climbed back to fifth before pitting to hand over to Brabham, but when the car then developed a transmission issue shortly into his stint, the team was forced to join the de Ferran crew in retirement.

However, with the car having completed more than 300 laps in its first race, Brabham admitted that there were still plenty of positives to be taken from the opening weekend of the season.

"Obviously, we would have liked both Acuras to finish the race but a lot has still been achieved in our first LMP1 race," he said. "We came to Sebring in the knowledge that we were not 100 per cent ready but what we have learned here will certainly prove an invaluable help for the rest of the season.

"The car balance got better and better as the race wore on but we weren't quick enough to match the diesel-powered cars. I made two uncharacteristic errors, which wouldn't have had much of an effect on the race but I was unable to restart the car on either occasion and that is where we lost some time.

"The Patron Highcroft team did a fantastic job and have worked tirelessly with lots of late nights, not just this week but throughout the last few months. We've achieved a huge amount in our first race of the season and, although it shows that we aren't quite ready yet, our progression is really encouraging."

Regular team-mate Sharp also had mixed emotions at the end of the race, with the disappointment of retirement being offset somewhat by the potential shown by the new car.

"It is tough on the boys because this team has put in so much effort over the past few months, especially in the last couple of weeks," he said. "We made great progress with the car compared to where we started on Monday. During the race we had some good flashes of speed despite a few little issues.

"At the end it looked like we were going to set for a strong finish which would have been great for Acura's LMP1 debut. Unfortunately, we had the transmission issue but for the overall programme to have an Acura start from pole and run strongly in the race is a great start."



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