Sharp, Patron ESM seek elusive first Sebring win

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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SEBRING, Fla. – When Extreme Speed Motorsports debuted as a team in 2010 at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, the debut literally went up in flames.

A fire caught out Scott Sharp’s No. 01 Ferrari F430 GT in the waning stages of the 12-hour race, and Sharp was lucky to park the car on the side of the road into Turn 17.

But by the next race of the American Le Mans Series season in Long Beach, ESM had two cars back and resumed its pursuit of its first career win as a top privateer entry in the then-stacked ALMS GT class.

Flash forward six years later and the rebranded, Stuart, Fla.-based Tequila Patron ESM team enters Sebring at arguably the highest point in its history.

A dynamic drive from young Brazilian Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani helped deliver the team a win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with co-drivers Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek also driving two of their best races. Ed Brown completed limited laps at Daytona in the team’s No. 2 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

Now, Patron ESM looks for its second straight win on the trot, at a track near and dear to its heart.

This time last year, the team had scrambled to bring its old HPD ARX-03b open-top prototype out of retirement following nagging weight and pace issues with the new HPD ARX-04b coupe, which raced only at Daytona. And they’d later then switch to the Ligier Honda package once into the FIA World Endurance Championship season, starting at Silverstone.

Ryan Dalziel – who races for Patron ESM in the WEC but races for the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP team in IMSA – made every definitive effort to get Patron ESM a Sebring result.

In 2014, he co-drove with Sharp and David Brabham and with arguably the fastest car in the race, lost out on a late-race restart and finished second.

Last year, as newer-spec LMP2 cars ascended in the pace hierarchy, Dalziel performed a Herculean effort to qualify second, but the car failed to finish.

This year, Patron ESM has high expectations and will look to deliver a similarly strong result as at Daytona, which was also a key win for Honda.

“This is basically our home track. We’ve run endless miles here between Ferrari and P2 cars,” Sharp told NBC Sports this week. “We know it intimately. No matter where we qualify, we always seem to race well here.

“We did get spanked since Daytona with two different BOP changes. It’s a little bit of a drag. But hopefully, we’re very competitive. We’re better when it’s cooler than hot.

“(A win) would be big for us, no doubt. Given all that Patron’s done for U.S. sports car racing, it’s great to see us being a part. It’s great to see us be part of the North American championship, and to be close or whereabouts.”

Sharp also described how different the start of this year has been for the team, given it’s just one car to go through. Also, for the first time in the team’s history, it’s only entered one car for Sebring.

“It’s been 180 degree difference. It was almost spooky,” Sharp said.

“The Roar was super smooth. We’re like, ‘It can’t be this smooth?’ Then the work between Roar and 24 was super easy. And again, it was, ‘This is too easy… this can’t be happening?’ The race went great.

“We’d all tested in Spain, I came back a day before. And this is Friday, (the car) is a capsule. It’s Monday… and I’m like, ‘Guys, you leave for the track for Wednesday.’ Then we got the car back together in a day and a half.

“It’s a completely different vibe. We’re really organized. It’s reflected in the performance of the car.”

While the same four drivers will race at Sebring, Brown may drive limited laps again as he’s been under the weather this week.

Patron ESM Sebring results

  • 2010 (ALMS GT, Ferrari F430 GT): 02-Brown/Cosmo/Barbosa 6th, 01-Sharp/van Overbeek/D. Farnbacher 11th
  • 2011 (ALMS GT, Ferrari F458 Italia): 02-Brown/Cosmo/R. Bell 10th, 01-Sharp/van Overbeek/D. Farnbacher 16th
  • 2012 (ALMS GT, Ferrari F458 Italia): 02-Brown/Segal/Lazzaro 7th, 01-Sharp/van Overbeek/Cosmo 9th
  • 2013 (ALMS LMP2, HPD ARX-03b): 02-Brown/van Overbeek/Lazzaro 4th, 01-Sharp/Cosmo/Brabham 5th
  • 2014 (TUDOR P, HPD ARX-03b): 1-Dalziel/Sharp/Brabham 2nd, 2-Brown/van Overbeek/Pagenaud 5th
  • 2015 (TUDOR P, HPD ARX-03b): 2-Brown/van Overbeek/Fogarty 8th, 1-Dalziel/Sharp/DHH 9th