After a brilliant start to the season at Sebring, Acura ALMS teams fail to reach the podium in successive races. We file this report from the latest point of sports car frustration, the streets of Long Beach.
Busted" is a bit of colorful gambler's vernacular that generally expresses reaching an end, to ones wagering resources or luck or both. Towns like Las Vegas have been built on the backs of the busted, but casinos and off-track betting houses aren't the only places you'll find them. You can go for broke doing many things in this life, even racing. Just ask Acura's sports car teams; betting on pit strategies at the American LeMans stop in Long Beach, Calif., they became all too familiar with what happens when luck peters out.
A dry run likely wouldn't have helped anyone this time, as it did at Sebring, because the race was only 100-minutes long, leaving little margin for tactical error. Truth be told, the learning curve was pretty steep for everyone in ALMS the whole weekend of April 13-14. In addition to the abbreviated race, the series debuted at the GP with just a single 45-minute session before qualifying on Friday, not a whole lot of time to get familiar with the track.
Still, the short session and new digs did little to faze Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti. He put his and Bryan Herta's No. 26 ARX on the pole for Saturday's main event in spectacular fashion, on his last flying lap with no time to spare. The achievement marks the first time one of Acura's sports car programs has qualified for pole at a LeMans contest.
Indeed, it seemed as though the relatively tight confines and mixed road surfaces of the famous 1.9-mile downtown street circuit were exceedingly kind to most LMP2 class cars, Franchitti lining up with two P2 Porsches directly behind him. The remaining two Acura teams also cracked the Top 10, the No. 9 Highcroft ARX earning 5th and the No. 15 Lola of Lowe's Fernandez starting from the 7th spot on the 25-car grid.
Franchitti built on his advantage during the race, stretching the lead he established to more than 30 seconds before having to come in under a green flag on lap 46 for fuel, tires, and the mandatory driver change. Ideally, the stop should've been made in a caution period, but the event's only yellow came out early in the day, and when a second yellow never materialized, Franchitti was forced to pit during green. Herta returned the No. 26 to the field trailing the first five cars, the team's lead all but evaporated.
Things unraveled further when the AGR car had to come in again for a splash with just minutes left in the contest. The Fernandez crew also gambled with fuel strategy and lost, Adrian Fernandez himself having to come in to gas up on the final lap.
The only Acura squad to guess correctly in terms of planning seemed to be Highcroft Racing. They pitted during the early yellow and finished a strong 4th, battling from as far back as 11th and even spinning at one point after exiting pit lane. The No. 9 was the highest finishing Acura, bested only by the P2 Porches of Penske and Dyson on the podium. Not far behind the Hichcroft car, the Andretti entry crossed the line in 6th, while the Fernandez Lola came home in 8th.
The American LeMans Series travels to Houston next for the Lone Star GP on April 21st.