When you think about auto racing, who is the first driver you think of? For some of you, it might be the legendary Mario Andretti. For others, perhaps your favorite NASCAR driver, past or present. Maybe it’s a Formula 1 celebrity, such as former champion Lewis Hamilton? Fr the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, one of the first drivers that pop into my head is Scott Sharp.
As a longtime race fan, he was one of the first drivers who took the time to give me his autograph and ask me who I thought was going to win the race. As a kid of 12, that’s the kind of thing sticks with you! It has been quite the journey for Scott Sharp since his early days in IMSA. Wih a return to prototype racing, his career has gone full circle.
Scott Sharp, owner of Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) and co-driver of the No. 01 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b, recently took the time to talk about the 2013 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón (ALMS) season to date, as well as the team’s plans for 2014. The Stuart, FL-based team has three podium finishes this season, including the team’s first-ever one-two finish during the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Sharp also discussed the progress ESM has made during the Le Mans break and expectations for the remainder of the season.
How much have you enjoyed being back in a prototype?
“I’ve enjoyed being back in the prototype from the moment I climbed into the cockpit. Being back in that type of car has been fantastic, particularly with all the top guys we have at ESM, knowing how comfortable I feel with them. The minute I got in the car, I remembered racing with open cockpit, not only from visual standpoint, but the cooling because the Ferrari was enclosed and so hot. The downforce of the HPD chassis is very comforting to the driver. It builds your confidence. In so many of the corners where the GT car is a little iffy, the prototype is usually flat. It brakes, accelerates and hits the corners well. We’re only three races into it as a team, but I’m very excited about our move.”
Sounds like you’ve adapted quickly because of your past seasons in prototypes. Talk about how the team has adapted to the new machinery.
“I think it has been going pretty well. Obviously we had the one race win already and we’ve run competitively so far. The team has adapted quickly. There are about five or six guys on the team that worked with the old Acura program, so they’ve got a lot of knowledge especially when it comes to build and maintenance of the car. The guys have done an amazing job putting the cars together trouble-free, especially with our experience with the chassis.”
“As far as the drivers go, all the guys have picked it up real fast. Everybody loves driving the prototypes. Guy and Johannes have done a little bit of prototype driving. Ed has never driven a prototype and we’re asking a lot of out him without having huge amounts of experience. I think Ed has found it to be a very good confidence building car. The downforce certainly helps. Ed is going much quicker in the prototypes than he ever did in the Ferraris and we’re only at the beginning stages. For all of us drivers, we’re excited to be in car.”
How rewarding was the Long Beach weekend for you and everyone at ESM?
“The amount of work that went into the season up until that point was amazing, so the payoff at Long Beach was huge. The decision on changing to prototypes wasn’t made until the end of February. The amount of thrash that went through, half the team had colds because they were running themselves into the ground. The thrash that went on before Sebring, into Sebring and right into Long Beach was immense.”
“For us to get ESM’s first one-two finish and for us to win in the prototype class that quickly, I think was very rewarding for the whole team. It was a great way to thank them and prove to them that this was a worthwhile endeavor.”
You mentioned the thrashing from pre-season through Long Beach, now that there has been a little bit of break and the team has had time to rest and prepare for Lime Rock, Talk about heading into the second part of the ALMS season.
“We stayed busy as a team. We’re running the GRAND-AM race at Watkins Glen with Mike Hedlund, Guy and Johannes, right before Lime Rock. We’ve had a Ferrari Challenge race and we’ve had a couple of different tests. We certainly kept busy, but at the same time the guys had some time off and spent time with their families. It is a beautiful time of year to have a few extra days, if the water is warm enough here in Florida.”
“I think we’re going to be ready for Lime Rock. I think the testing paid off well for us. Like we did last year, we spent a couple of days just really working through the different matrix on what makes the car work. The engineers have a better understanding. I think we’re going to come back much more knowledgeable about the car. The drivers have had more laps and are more comfortable in the car. Plus the team has had a chance to catch its breath. Both cars have been completely rebuilt after Laguna, having the first three races on them. The break came at a good time. I think the chambers are fully loaded in the gun now, so we’re ready to go and tackle the rest of the season.”
In addition to testing and recharging, you were able to spend time behind the scenes with the other Tequila Patrón racing team. Talk about your trip to Englishtown. Were you able to work out a trade in horsepower between the Funny Car and the P2 car?
“We had an awesome time in Englishtown. That’s just an unbelievable spectacle. It was 180-degree difference as anything can be from the P2 car, as far as racing goes. To think that you go over 300 miles per hour in four seconds, and keep it in a straight line with that kind of horsepower, versus everything that we do inside the P2 car during one lap. Just to feel the enormity of the power that comes out of those cars – the smells, the fumes – it shakes the ground and tries to pull the air out of your body, literally. It is incredibly impressive. We had a great day up there. It was fun to support Alexis. I’d love to get into her car and make a couple runs. Hopefully, next winter I’m going to be able to do that. I don’t think any of the other guys are willing to do it, but I’ll do it. It will be exciting to try.”
Following last year’s win at Petit, ESM received an invitation to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. Talk about the changes since last October.
“Our win at Long Beach was thrilling especially since we were able to get that P2 win so early in the season. The win was terrific, but we also realized that we have so much to learn about these cars and performing at that elite level that we aspire to and we know we need to get to that level.”
“We’re going to go to race tracks like did at Laguna, where we’ve never seen this car at the track before. We’re not able to test there, it is a different combination of race car and track that we’ve never been on and we’re at a disadvantage to teams that have already run there. That‘s really what this year is all about. I think we’re going to have some great races. We’re going to have tracks where we’ve really got to dig deep and try to learn as rapidly as possible. We’re going to test everywhere we can test and at the tracks where we can’t test, we’ll learn enough along the way that we’ll get much more proficient and we go.”
“We’re trying to keep the team’s eye on the ball which is 2014. That is why we made this move. That is why we cancelled going to Le Mans this year because of that effort, the money, the resources and everything we felt it would take for us to get to the top class for 2014, we want to make sure we’re on the forefront of that.”
Since the 2014 season is the target, do you have markers or goals set for the team that you want the team to hit before this season ends? How is that progress?
“Our biggest target is still Level 5. There are strong and the only team we have to compete against and compare ourselves to. They are going to be one of the top teams wherever they go. What better barometer than that? To win one race and to be competitive, leading our first race at Sebring, we’ve made a good showing so far. We have good race pace compared to them. We haven’t quite figured out qualifying as strongly as they have. But I think as every lap goes by, we are getting closer and closer. I’m pleased with the job the team has done, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
This weekend, the Extreme Speed Motorsports team travels to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) for the Mobil 1 Sportscar Grand Prix. Stay tuned to this column for more interviews with some of your favorite racecar drivers, including Greg Biffle and Robby Gordon.
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