The Patron Highcroft Racing Acura team picked the right time to break their drought. A great battle between the two Acura ARX-02as ended as David Brabham fended off the final charge from Gil de Ferran in Sunday's American Le Mans Series Time ...
The Patron Highcroft Racing Acura team picked the right time to break their drought.
A great battle between the two Acura ARX-02as ended as David Brabham fended off the final charge from Gil de Ferran in Sunday's American Le Mans Series Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Elkhart Lake's Road America. Brabham won by 0.461 of a second, the closest margin of victory this season.
For Brabham and Scott Sharp, it is the team's first win since St. Petersburg in April, their second this season, and it extends their lead in the championship from nine to 13 points.
"The way the car was handling, the car I think was the best we've ever had it this year," Brabham said. "Gil was breathing down my neck pretty well. The only time I felt a little concerned was with a slower GT3 car into the last corner but I managed to dive down the inside and past him. The last few races have been pretty hard to take finishing second. Sometimes tough times make you stronger, you have to use that strength."
Sharp was watching from the sidelines as de Ferran was breathing down Brabham's neck. "David drove his tail off at the end of the race," Sharp said. "Yellows, for once, worked in our favor and the team did a great strategy battle."
It was a valiant effort by de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud after pitting off sequence under the first caution. Falling down the charts, they fought back to within just a few tenths of a second of the lead.
"David did an incredible job under pressure, he deserved the win," a gracious de Ferran said. "I felt we were a little bit quicker but we had a bit too much understeer behind him. We'll take second today and fight on the second time around."
Two late race cautions bunched the field and by that point the bulk of the front runners had completed their final pit stops. Adding to the excitement was the fact that three cars apiece from P1 and P2, the top six overall, were still on the lead lap.
It was merely a straight shootout in all classes, Brabham and de Ferran for the overall and P1 lead, Adrian Fernandez and the Dyson Racing Lola B09/86 Mazda of Butch Leitzinger in P2, and for third place in GT2 with the Flying Lizard Porsche and the lead Corvette C6.R.
On the final pit stop sequence, the Acura teams split their strategies. This occurred after a caution when Chris Dyson in the sister Dyson Lola Mazda slowed on track with apparent electrical issues and was tagged by Dominik Farnbacher in a Panoz. Farnbacher's left side door flew open.
Brabham took only two left-side tires, de Ferran four fresh Michelins, while both were beat out of the pits by Fernandez. The owner/driver of the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b in P2 took fuel only but was always going to get passed on the restarts, and the combination of strategy definitely changed the outcome.
"They pitted later than us the previous time which meant less fuel for them," Brabham said. "It would have been a quicker stop. The left front was starting to push too much. The team said, 'Left sides,' I said, 'Perfect, lets go for that.' It sort of helped us in the pit stop and strategy on the racetrack I had reasonable heat in the right side, a little more heat in the left."
Fernandez said the team just wanted to beat Leitzinger, who co-drove with Marino Franchitti, out of the pits. "We just wanted to be ahead of the Dyson," he said. "Even with the weight reductions, we still couldn't compete with the P1s. That's always going to happen here because we don't have enough power."
Fernandez and co-driver Luis Diaz scored their sixth P2 class win in seven races, this one again coming after being out-qualified by the Dyson Lola Mazdas for the first time this year. The team also won the Michelin Green X Challenge for prototypes, being the most green and clean of all this weekend.
Leitzinger and Franchitti were second ahead of the Team Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder wheeled by Greg Pickett and Klaus Graf, and the second Dyson piloted by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith.
Penalties hit both Graf and Dyson when each took over from their teammates. Both cars were serviced under yellow, and each was sent to the penalty box for working on their cars under a closed pit. Adding insult to injury, Graf tore up the track in his stint with a fastest lap over a second quicker than anyone else in class and was only a few seconds back of Leitzinger when the checkers flew.
The sixth car on the lead lap at day's end was the Intersport Lola B06/10 AER of Jon and Clint Field. The duo made four pit stops, changing drivers on each stop, as Jon Field was particularly quick throughout the race and still had a shot at an overall podium by the checkers.
That car ended third in P1 ahead of the Ginetta Zytek 09HS hybrid and the Autocon Motorsports Lola B06/10 AER. Chris McMurry ran a great first stint, the longest of anyone in the field, and ran as high as second in P1 before falling to eighth overall and fifth in class.
BMW scored a 1-2 finish in GT2, with pole sitter Joey Hand and co-driver Bill Auberlen taking the win from teammates Dirk Mueller and Tommy Milner. It's the first ALMS win for Rahal Letterman Racing and the new E92 M3s.
The win for Hand is his first in ALMS competition, a day after scoring his first pole, and the first for the manufacturer since the 2001 Petit Le Mans.
"Bill and I called this one to ourselves," Hand said. "We've been talking it up pretty well here. The battle for third was great; I enjoyed sitting back there watching."
"I can hardly remember that far back (to last BMW win in 2001)," Auberlen admitted. "We have a new group of people that are so skilled. You give them enough time to develop the car, and they'll make it happen. Dunlop, our tire partner, has been working so hard."
Hand's reference to the battle for third basically described the best anyone in GT2 could attain after the first caution period, caused when an ALMS Challenge car driven by John Baker was beached at Canada Corner (Turn 12).
BMW basically had the race handed to them on a silver platter on the caution. The pair of Rahal Letterman Racing M3s were caught between the two Acuras. When Pagenaud pitted, the BMWs got a wave-around past the pace car being ahead of the new overall leaders. That netted them a lap lead over the rest of the GT2 field and guaranteed an almost unassailable advantage.
The move quickly became a topic of controversy as the BMWs in essence gained an entire lap when they were no more than a few seconds ahead of the rest of the field when the yellow flew. Auberlen admitted as such in the post-race press conference.
"I don't think you should kill a race based on where the safety car comes out," he said. "There are eight or nine GT2 cars that can win on a weekend, so to the line right down and say, 'You two go forward and the rest of you stay back,' it needs to be fixed. It will, by the way."
To be fair, with the BMWs speed this weekend from the moment they unloaded off their transporters, a victory might have been on the cards anyway. Nonetheless, the win for Hand and Auberlen snapped the Flying Lizard Porsche's streak of five straight wins.
The leading Lizards of Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister were in line for a podium finish, as Long passed Pierre Kaffer in the Risi Ferrari F430 GT for third. That was the battle all race behind the BMWs, with the Lizards, the Ferrari, and the two Corvettes all running in lockstep.
After the final restart, Johnny O'Connell closed down on Long and passed him into Turn 5 for the final podium position. It makes two podiums in as many races for O'Connell and Jan Magnussen after the debut of Corvette's new GT2 C6.R, and the duo also scored the Michelin Green X Challenge win for GT cars.
Long ran wide and fell to fourth. They still finished a spot ahead of their closest challengers in the championship, the Ferrari of Pierre Kaffer and Jaime Melo, who were fifth.
In the ALMS Challenge class, a battle of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, the husband/wife duo of Martin and Melanie Snow won yet again. The drivers from Snow Racing captured their third win from four Challenge races, are close to securing the inaugural ALMS Challenge class championship.
"I was able to maintain some pretty quick laps without being on the " edge, Martin Snow said. "When I caught up to someone, it was relatively" easy. "
Melanie Snow added, "I started in the car and did what I could to get ahead. We would pull out but then have to stop for fuel and then repass the rest of the guys."
A pair of Gruppe Orange-prepared cars completed the podium. Nick Parker and Donald Pickering finished second, with the Wesley Hoagland/Bob Faieta car third.
The series announced the Challenge class will run in the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but not at the series' next round in Mosport in two weeks. Laguna Seca replaces Mosport on the schedule.
Unofficially the Highcroft duo leads in P1 by 13 points, the Fernandez duo by 55 in P2, the Lizards by 39, and the Snows by 21.