Sharp: Switch to new class in ESM's best interests
Allen Moody | Highlands TodaySEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - Last week's announcement by Extreme Speed Motorsports to jump to the LMP2 class for the 2013 season of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón may have caught plenty of people by surprise, but the decision wasn't one the team took lightly.
Published: February 23, 2013
Published: February 23, 2013
A number of factors played a role in the equation but the primary reason is that the team believes the move is the best strategy for the long-term success of ESM.
"We had a great year last year and our team did a great job," said ESM owner/driver Scott Sharp. "At the end of the day we were always sort of told by Ferrari as we started to succeed more and more support would come. We had a strong year last year and nothing really changed.
"We feel long term, when you're racing against serious factory efforts and you don't have serious factory support yourself it's like going into battle with one arm tied behind your back."
Sharp went to visit Ferrari in Italy in December and afterward started thinking the LMP2 class could very well be the best decision. Even when the team was testing its two Ferrari F458s during the annual Sebring Winter Test earlier this month, the thought of moving to the P2 class was in the back of Sharp's mind.
"We were talking about it," Sharp said. "At that point in time we were starting to think that might be a good avenue for us. Frankly, there are three of these cars in the U.S. and we need two of them, so we didn't know if we were going to be able to pull that all off."
Things fell into place for ESM, where they were able to buy one LMP2 car from Starworks Motorsports and ordered a brand-new one from Honda.
The move also was made with an eye on the future, as the combined LMP2/DP class will be the top class when the ALMS and GRAND-AM merge for 2014.
"We were thinking we wanted to get the Patron brand to the top class; they're interested in continuing as the major sponsor of the merger, but who knows if that will happen or not?" Sharp said. "They haven't really started negotiating with anybody yet, but it makes a lot of sense for them to be in the top class. That class is going to be really competitive next year with all of the DPs and the LMP cars that come over. There will be more than 20 cars, so we felt we needed to start getting our act together now."
Sharp has plenty of success in prototypes, winning the LMP1 championship in 2009 aboard the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a prototype before founding Extreme Speed Motorsports, but believes the rest of the team will be up to speed in no time.
"It's a very friendly car to drive," Sharp said. "Guy (Cosmo) has driven prototypes, LMP cars as well as Daytona Prototypes and Johannes (van Overbeek) jumped into a Daytona Prototype a couple of years ago at Daytona with Flying Lizard and went very fast.
"It's the first time for Ed (Brown) to be in an open cockpit or a down-force car and he realizes he has a lot to learn, but I think that's the beauty of this year. We're looking at this as a growth year for us to really get geared up for 2014."
Sharp said the team appreciates all of the support it gets from the fans of Sebring, who have adopted the Stuart-based crew as their local ALMS team, and he was confident they would have plenty to be excited about in the future.
"We had a fun run with Ferrari," he said. "It was three fun years. Ferrari is an incredible car and we were really proud to say ESM Patrón Ferrari and it's a shame that didn't pan out the way we envisioned and hoped that it might.
"But in racing things take twists and turns and I think this is going to be a great opportunity for us, not only for this year, but more and more as the years go by. When you combine everything we felt this was the right decision."
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