Photo by John Thawley SALT LAKE CITY - The first 30 minutes of Saturday's Utah Grand Prix had the three Acura teams, Andretti Green Racing, Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Highcroft Racing, leading the LMP2 class and showing excellent speed on the long 4.5-mile, 24-turn road circuit at Miller Motorsports Park.

Marino Franchitti, driving the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a, made a sensational start from his sixth position and moved to second overall on the opening lap of the American Le Mans Series race. Franchitti took his machine to first in the LMP2 division and chased the overall-leading, more-powerful Audi.

Then Luis Diaz, in the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola, made a tremendous pass on Franchitti in traffic and jumped to the front position. Diaz, teaming with Adrian Fernandez, set a blistering pace before handling the driving chores to his teammate at Lap 26.

Meanwhile, Stefan Johansson took over the overall lead on Lap 27 in his No. 9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a, as the Connecticut-based team worked on a fuel-conserving strategy. David Brabham jumped in the car and drove hard before trouble struck by Lap 45.

At one point in the race, the Acura cars ran 1-2-3 in the LMP2 category.

But by the time the race entered its final 30 minutes, the fortunes of the three Acura teams had gone south.

Franchitti had to pit the AGR Acura with a gearbox problem and his teammate Bryan Herta, the Sebring champion, never got into the car Saturday. The team retired after the one-hour mark. Fernandez was forced to pit in the middle of the race after being hit by a slower car and the Lowe's car exploded a left rear tire.

Brabham suffered a similar fate to Franchitti, as the Highcroft Acura was forced to pit with transmission trouble.

At the end, the Penske Porsches finished 1-2 in LMP2 with Ryan Briscoe and Sasha Maassen taking the No. 6 Porsche to the overall win. Audi finished second overall and first in the LMP1 class.

The Lowe's Acura Lola finished fifth in LMP2 and seventh overall in the two-hour, 45-minute contest, the fifth round of the 12-event American Le Mans Series.

Penske's win was the third consecutive overall victory for Porsche and extended the team's advantage in the ALMS seasonal point standings.


BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "It was very disappointing for the XM Satellite Radio Acura team. Marino [Franchitti] made a tremendous start and I got the feeling that the car was handling great. Marino said we had a car that could run with the leaders. But we lost a gearbox part and it was just too tough to fix it in time. We are trying very hard to stay with the Porsches but they are very fast. We now have a six-week break before Lime Rock and I expect us to prepare hard in that time. We want to come out strong in the next couple of races."

MARINO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "I felt a vibration like a flat tire and then there was an explosion. I got a very good start but I don't know what was going on at the start. The Penske cars just didn't go. So I just went for a hole and it was there. It was similar to the St. Petersburg start, but this time there was no contact. I think I could have held off [Luis] Diaz in the Lowe's Acura but I got held up by a Porsche going into Turn One. By that time Diaz was able to get inside and take the position. It's a shame today but the XM Satellite Radio crew gave me a terrific car. We just had a gearbox that let go and we had to park the car. I feel badly for Bryan [Herta] too, because he never got in the car. And he is fast at the circuit."

DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "Of course, we're disappointed with the outcome but we've taken away a lot from this race. We gained a lot of ground considering the amount of track time we lost during practice. The guys did a great job with the set up. Once the car started to hook up during my stint, I felt I could run very quickly. Unfortunately, it was at that point that the gearbox acted up. But we got our points and learned a lot from this race. The next challenge is on home turf at Lime Rock so we've got a good one to look forward to in a few weeks."

STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "Wow, that start was crazy. I don't know what happened to the Porsche. It felt like they were still behind the pace car. It was a wild scene into Turn One. I got botched up with a bunch of cars and one of the Porsches hit me in the side. The right rear wheel is all bent up. I don't know how the air stayed in the tire. After that, the car felt pretty good. We were saving fuel so I couldn't really make a hard charge early. But overall, the car is good."

LUIS DIAZ: (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola B06/40): "The Lowe's car was really good. I was quicker than the Porsches and I was staying up with the Audi. That start was very strange. I couldn't figure out what the Penske cars were doing. I got stuck behind the Mazda for quite some time. But after I got by him, I was able to move up to the leaders. Unfortunately, Adrian [Fernandez] had a tough problem with contact with a slower car. Our car was better than our finish."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola B06/40): "It was just one of those days. The two GT cars I was passing never saw me. The Ferrari hit me in my left rear when I was passing him. I'm sure he didn't see me. With the Porsche GT, I was completely beside him and he just never saw me. I wouldn't have done anything differently. It was one of those things. We just had no luck. We had a strong car, a car that I think was strong enough to win the race. Unfortunately, everything went wrong in that respect."

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