Wednesday
Jun042008

Scott Sharp Returning to His Roots

Photo credit: John Thawley / Richard DoleFor Scott Sharp, the 2008 season marked another turning point in his memorable racing career. The 40-year-old veteran IndyCar Series racer shifted gears, joining Highcroft Racing’s Acura LMP2 program in the American Le Mans Series. Bringing the support of Patron Spirits Company, Sharp has proven to be a winner on and off the track as he now comes full circle in returning to his road racing roots.

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photo by: Richard Dole
Sharp has teamed with endurance racing veteran David Brabham in the Patron Highcroft Racing outfit, one of four teams campaigning Acura ARX-01bs in the Series. After a fourth place finish at the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring and a second at St. Petersburg, the duo took home their first win at Long Beach, the team’s maiden victory as well.

The breakthrough success on the streets of Long Beach also proved that Sharp is a quick learner, having only limited experience in the LMP2 challenger. He got his first taste of the 500+ bhp Acura prototype in a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in January, and has had favorable impressions of the car ever since.

“It’s been such a great ride from the first time I ever got in the car at the beginning of January,” Sharp said. “I immediately took a huge liking to the Highcroft team and all the people that Duncan Dayton has assembled. I just loved the car right out of the box.”

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photo by: John Thawley
Sharp feels it was the right time to move from the open-wheel ranks. The Conn. native had been a staple of the IndyCar Series since its inception, co-winning the inaugural championship in 1996 and recording 146 starts, the most by any driver to date. The nine-time winner most recently drove for Rahal Letterman Racing, where he finished eighth in the 2007 championship. However, Sharp had been winless since 2005, prompting him to look for a new challenge. 

“For me, it was all about opportunity,” Sharp said of his move to the American Le Mans Series. “I’m an intensively competitive person. I loved my stint in Indy cars, and would still, at some point, love to run the Indy 500 again. But I don’t get very excited racing for ninth. Unfortunately the way it’s gotten over there is that there’s two or three teams that win everything.”

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photo by: John Thawley
Sharp’s decision to move full-time to the sports car ranks came relatively easy given his successful past in the discipline. Before his stint in open-wheel, Sharp was an accomplished road racer, capturing multiple SCCA national championships, including the 1991 Trans-Am crown. His father was a legend in SCCA and IMSA with his Bob Sharp Racing team. Scott was also a frequent competitor in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, an event that he won overall in 1996. While Sharp has stayed in touch with sports car machinery over the years, he was blown away by the advancements Le Mans prototypes have over other sports cars.

“Man, they’re not even close,” he said. “It’s easily the most technologically advanced car I’ve driven. It’s got Formula One-level downforce, Formula One-level brakes, a lot of advanced Acura systems, paddle shift, traction control, and all kinds of software. It’s just a really impressive car to drive. It seems that I naturally fit well in the car.”

 Another aspect unique to Le Mans prototypes is that they’re constantly evolving. Technical regulations allow manufacturers and teams to develop new parts, unlike many other spec series. Sharp has found this to be one of the unique characteristics of the Series that sets its apart from others.

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photo by Richard Dole
“It’s constant development,” he said. “Every week we come to the race, new pieces are being produced. The team is the same way. Duncan has a passion for winning that rivals just about anybody in this business. It’s like a Roger Penske kind of passion. They’ll do everything and anything to make the car better and better and better.”

Dayton, like Sharp, shares the dedication to succeed. Highcroft Racing originally began as a vintage racing restoration service but has quickly expanded in recent years. In 2004, Dayton constructed a 48,000 square-foot facility, initially housing historic race cars. Many questioned its size and purpose, but Dayton continued fulfilling his vision. In 2006, Highcroft competed in the ALMS as a privateer. The following year, Dayton was the man behind one of Acura’s original three supported teams. His next vision of securing primary sponsorship was fulfilled this year. Dayton checked another goal off his list just weeks ago when the team scored its first win.

 “I think a lot of it comes back to Duncan’s vision two or three years ago,” Sharp said of the team’s success. “He wanted to have one of the marque teams here, and I don’t think we’re at where his end is yet. He wants to win LMP1 and win these races overall and also go to Le Mans. These are all steps in that process. He built a shop on faith. ‘Build the shop and the rest will come.’ So far it has… I think people are starting to recognize his efforts and his focus and what Highcroft Racing is.”

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photo by Richard Dole
The next step in Dayton’s vision is to win the class championship, and the team is not far away from accomplishing that feat either. Four races into the 2008 season, Sharp and Brabham sit second in the LMP2 drivers’ standings, trailing the Penske Racing duo of Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. Sharp believes the team can contend for more wins this season, and the championship is not out of the question either.

“I think that we’ve driven smart, stayed out of trouble and made no mistakes and by the end of the races, have had really good cars,” he said. “If you put all of those pieces together week in and week out, you ought be able to compete for race wins and we’re proving that.”

 

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