Sebring, Florida. Saturday, 19th March, 2010.
ALMS 2011 Round 1 : 12 Hours of Sebring
It all began exactly one week ago when Marino Franchitti climbed into the cockpit of the Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01e LMP1 race car for the very first time this season. “Although I’ve driven a lot of prototypes and won in the ALMS overall, I’ve never competed in LMP1 so it’s a big goal achieved for me to finally drive in the premier class against all the big factory teams”, said Marino. A tremendous effort by the entire Highcroft crew saw the car built from scratch at Highcroft’s base in Danbury during the previous week and now it was time for Marino and his team mates David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud to shake it down and put it through its paces during their two days of unofficial testing.
By the start of the official Sebring race week Marino and his team mates were pleased with the gradual progress being made, and whilst obtaining a good set-up was at the top of everyone’s priorities, maintaining reliability around the bumpy 3.7 mile airfield circuit was paramount. Air and track temperatures were high and it quickly became clear that the diesel powered Audi’s and Peugeot’s would be the cars to beat, but their race pace was unlikely to be as fast, so there was everything to race for.
Temperatures continued to build as the week progressed so as always the Sebring circuit conditions were forever changing. Simon Pagenaud qualified the #01 Highcroft car, setting a 1:49.802 to take seventh place on the 56 car grid. “We have a 12 hour race ahead of us and whether we start up the front or a couple of rows back, it really doesn’t matter. I think the fact that we think we have a good race car is the most important thing” said Marino.
When the flag fell for the start of today’s 59th running of this iconic twelve-hour race here in Sebring, it was David Brabham behind the wheel. On the first lap he moved up to sixth and set about chasing down the diesel cars ahead of him. As the race began to unfold, problems beset both the works’ Audi cars, one of them losing out to a clash with one of the works’ Peugeots. After just 3hrs of running and 25% of the race complete, the Highcroft car had moved up to 3rd overall and Simon Pagenaud briefly lead with almost 5 hours of the race completed. As Simon pitted the car dropped back to 3rd overall.
Marino was next in the driver rotation; he wasted no time getting up to speed and was quick to overtake Olivier Panis in the Oreca run Peugeot to take 2nd overall. Marino pressed hard throughout his double stint setting lap times consistent with the front running diesel. It was a faultless drive after which Marino pitted handing the car over to David for his final run. The question was would Marino have an opportunity to get back in the car as the final pitstop would only leave a single stint, finally strategy dictated Simon would remain behind the wheel.
The car had run faultlessly throughout; fuel and new sets of Michelin tyres had been the only additions. When the chequered flag fell the Highcroft car had finished 2nd overall sandwiched between the Oreca Peugeot in 1st place and the works’ Peugeot of Montagny/Sarrazin/Lamy in 3rd, the Highcroft car having never dropped off the lead lap throughout the entire 12 hours, a truly phenomenal result for it’s first ever outing - and only seven days old!. .
“I’m just so proud to be part of this fantastic result for the Highcroft team, I can’t tell you how hard everyone has worked this week, they’ve had very little sleep so this one is for them” said Marino. “We needed to run the perfect race to compete with the diesel cars and that is what we did, and to achieve that with a car just one week old is outstanding and I have to thank our partners HPD, Wirth Research and Michelin for their support and for giving us such great resources to work with. David did a great job at the start of the race and Simon did an amazing job of holding off the works Peugeot at the end so thank you to them too. I just hope our efforts also helped to raise lots of money for the Japanese relief fund in the wake of their recent earthquake and tsunami which has torn their country and so many lives apart.”