Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud went flag-to-flag Saturday to win the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, their fourth consecutive overall victory in the American Le Mans Series. Team owner de Ferran qualified on the overall pole position, and the pairing won at Mid-Ohio for the first time in their careers.
The victorious team boss crossed the finish line in the de Ferran XM Acura ARX-02a 8.358 seconds ahead of Patrón Highcroft Racing’s David Brabham and the Acura that he drove with LMP1 championship co-leader Scott Sharp.
The emotions of the weekend were just as challenging for de Ferran as the race itself. Team fueler Keith Jones was badly injured in a pitlane fire at Mid-Ohio last year. Winning for the first time at the circuit and on the weekend where he announced he will retire as a driver at the end of the season were tough to overcome.
“Certainly what happened here last year was a huge landmark in my life and to all of our team,” de Ferran said, trying to hold back tears. “At the end of the day, you cannot perform if you are a complete mess. You have to keep your emotions in check at all times and be 100 percent rational. This was my most
emotional race. Mind management is very important . But crossing the finish line – I couldn’t hold back.”
But it was a joyful celebration. The former two-time CART champion and Indy 500 winner watched Pagenaud drive a brilliant opening stint against Sharp. The young Frenchman drove the first 77 minutes before handing off to de Ferran, who didn’t give up the lead. A quick splash late was all the Acura needed.
“We have had a good weekend,” said Pagenaud, who set the fastest race lap for the third straight event. “The crew made good decisions at the right time. It is great to have an improvement over the year. It was a fun race to drive. We managed to save a lot of fuel in my stint. “
“I have been coming to Mid-Ohio for many years,” added de Ferran, who saw his team win its fourth straight MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge prototype trophy for overall performance as well as fuel and environmental efficiency. “It has been a great reception. It is also great for the championship. We have to win every time out. It is very hard because I have a lot of respect for Patrón Highcroft and their drivers. They are a fantastic team and a great opponent.”
Intersport Racing’s local tandem of Jon and Clint Field drove their AER-powered Lola B06/10 to a third-place P1 finish. The father-son duo was fifth overall.
Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz won their fifth LMP2 race of the year and were third overall in the Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b. The class championship leaders won the race with a short-fill for fuel on the race’s final caution period while running second to Dyson Racing’s Marino Franchitti.
The Acura was the first car out of the pitlane, beating the de Ferran Acura and receiving a free pass by the safety car, which had to pick up overall leader de Ferran.
“Here on the track with a lot of corners the best place to pass is on the straights. So we needed a good strategy and not get into trouble,” Diaz said. “At the end we entered the pits four to five laps after they (Dyson) did. It was a fantastic job by our guys.”
Four different cars in class led at one point – the Acura, both of Dyson Racing’s Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes and the Team Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder. Dyson’s Marino Franchitti and Cytosport’s Klaus Graf were locked in a battle for second before contact and a spin broke the Lola-Mazda’s suspension and elevated Graf and team owner Greg Pickett to second in class, 10.482 seconds behind the Acura.
“It was fantastic,” Fernandez said. “We wanted to keep the tires at the end. We are really proud. It was a great fight with Marino. I was going to make his life difficult. The Acura has been good on fuel mileage and very reliable. I have to believe as a team, as a whole package, it was an impressive performance.”
Franchitti and teammate Butch Leitzinger, who won in P2 three weeks ago at Lime Rock, were good enough for third place.
Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister tied a Series record with their fifth straight GT2 victory and spoiled Corvette Racing’s GT2 debut in the process. Long and his Porsche 911 GT3 RSR beat Corvette’s Johnny O’Connell by 21 seconds. O’Connell drove the new Corvette C6.R with Jan Magnussen.
Their entry did win the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge for the second time this year.
The Porsche made just one pit stop compared with two for the Corvettes. The strategy was risky but was a winning call as the tank of E10 and MICHELIN tires lasted 80 minutes. Long said the Porsche’s fuel pressure light came on with less than two laps to go. The American factory driver may have been worried, but the team and strategist Thomas Blam were not.
“When the Corvette came back in during the last caution, I called Thomas and asked him if I missed the call to pit,” Long said. “He didn’t even answer me but said to get ready for the last restart. Toward the end, I kept asking Thomas ‘Do you want me to save fuel?’ He told me to keep being smart and safe. So on the next-to-last lap, the fuel light came on as I was going up to the Keyhole. He said no problem, just go to the reserve.”
Long also didn’t use the Porsche’s clutch to shift during most of his run.
“There were some issues,” said Bergmeister, who drove the opening stint. “The car was great and the pace we had was phenomenal. One of the Challenge class cars didn’t make life easy on us. He blocked me going in Turn 5 or 6. He hit me on the left wheel when I tried to go around him but didn’t do any damage. The car was consistent throughout.”
BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team’s Dirk Müller and Tommy Milner placed third in class with a late pass of the second Corvette sending the duo to its third podium of the year.
Martin and Melanie Snow won their second Challenge class race of the year in their Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race. Martin Snow beat ORBIT Racing’s Guy Cosmo to the finish by two laps. The Snows won at Utah and are the only husband-wife team to win a race in Series history.
“It was tough today. You have a complex of corners and you can get crunched up pretty good with the prototypes,” Martin Snow said. “Melanie did most of the work today. She did some really good laps even after she got hit by a car early on. She stayed consistent and kept it going. I was just the one on the wall watching her. It was great to see.”
Among the more tense moments was the start of the race. Melanie Snow was hit by a prototype in the opening turn and hit Ed Brown’s ORBIT Racing Porsche, which went hard off course. He was released from a Mansfield hospital after an observation period, but the incident underscored the difficulty with traffic.
“The biggest thing is to hold your line and let them go around you,” Melanie Snow said. “It hinders your driving but it hinders them as well. If it slowed us down, then it slows the other cars down as well.
Cosmo teamed with John Baker for their first podium of the season in the new class. Bob Faieta and Wesley Hoaglund, who won at Lime Rock in the last round, were third.
There is little time to rest with the Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase set for 2 p.m. CT on Sunday, August 16 at Road America. The race will air live on SPEED. American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche and Live Timing & Scoring will be available at Racehub on americanlemans.com
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The race also will mark the seventh round of the 2009 MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge
. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com and roadamerica.com
Acura Sports Car Challenge
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio
1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, France; Gil de Ferran, Brazil; Acura ARX-02a (1, P1), 118.
2. (2) Scott Sharp, Jupiter, FL; David Brabham, Australia; Acura ARX-02a (2, P1), 118.
3. (3) Luis Diaz, Mexico; Adrian Fernandez, Mexico; Acura ARX-01B (1, P2), 116.
4. (6) Greg Pickett, Alamo, CA; Klaus Graf, Germany; Porsche RS Spyder (2, P2), 116.
5. (7) Clint Field, Dublin, OH; Jon Field, Dublin, OH; Lola B06/10 AER (3, P1), 115.
6. (26) Stefan Johansson, Sweden; Johnny Mowlem, England; Ginetta-Zytek 09HS (4, P1), 114.
7. (10) Jörg Bergmeister, Germany; Patrick Long, Oak Park, CA; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (1, GT2), 108.
8. (12) Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Corvette C6.R (2, GT2), 108.
9. (13) Tommy Milner, Leesburg, VA; Dirk Müller, Germany; BMW E92 M3 (3, GT2), 107.
10. (15) Oliver Gavin, England; Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Corvette C6.R (4, GT2), 107.
11. (11) Pierre Kaffer, Germany; Jaime Melo, Brazil; Ferrari F430 GT (5, GT2), 107.
12. (14) Martin Ragginger, Austria; Wolf Henzler, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (6, GT2), 107.
13. (18) Ian James, England; Dominik Farnbacher, Germany; Panoz Esperante GTLM Ford (7, GT2), 107.
14. (16) Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, CA; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; BMW E92 M3 (8, GT2), 106.
15. (19) Seth Neiman, Burlingame, CA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (9, GT2), 104.
16. (17) David Murry, Cumming, GA; David Robertson, Ray, MI; Andrea Robertson, Ray, MI; Doran Ford GT MK 7 (10, GT2), 102.
17. (5) Butch Leitzinger, State College, PA; Marino Franchitti, Scotland; Lola B09 86 Mazda (3, P2), 100.
18. (23) Melanie Snow, Pleasant Grove, UT; Martin Snow, Pleasant Grove, UT; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (1, C), 100.
19. (20) John Baker, New York, NY; Guy Cosmo, Long Island, NY; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (2, C), 98.
20. (24) Wesley Hoagland, Tustin, CA; Bob Faieta, Tujunga, CA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (3, C), 98.
21. (21) Gerry Vento, Palm Beach, FL; Shane Lewis, Jupiter, FL; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (4, C), 96.
22. (8) Adam Pecorari, Aston, PA; Gunnar Van der Steur, Chesapeake City, MD; Radical SR9 AER (4, P2), 80.
23. (25) Donald Pickering, Reno, NV; Nick Parker, Seattle, WA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (5, C), 77.
24. (4) Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, England; Lola B09 86 Mazda (5, P2), 62.
25. (9) Bryan Willman, Kirkland, WA; Tomy Drissi, Hollywood, CA; Lola B06/10 AER (5, P1), 40.
26. (22) Ed Brown, Las Vegas, NV; Bill Sweedler, Westport, CT; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (6, C), 0.