Brabham Clinches Third LMP2 Spoils at Road America
David Brabham reigned victorious in LMP2 to secure his third class win of the season at Road America for round seven of the American Le Mans Series, Generac 500 presented by Time Warner Cable, earning valuable points in the championship fight. The incident packed four-hour race that resulted in seven safety car periods saw a stunning drive from Brabs while a strategic ace played by the Patron Highcroft Racing team positioned the Australian for victory and even a shot at another outright win, to finish third overall.
The Henley-on-Thames (UK) resident made a solid start from sixth and fourth in class to settle seventh overall in the opening stages. With a little over five laps completed, the first full course caution came out but racing resumed around lap 10 with Brabham lying sixth and fourth in class, hunting down Romain Dumas.
Brabham pushed the Acura to within a few tenths of the Penske Porsche before another safety car period on lap 14 saw all of the front runners head for the pits. But a sterling pitstop by the Patron Highcroft Racing team ensured that Brabham was the first to rejoin the race. Despite the field returning to green flag racing around lap 18, a third full course caution was called just one lap later.
One hour in to the race, with just 21 laps completed, racing resumed and Brabham took the opportunity to take Guy Smith up the inside of turn five. With both LMP1 Audis slicing back through the field, Brabs held station sixth overall and third in class at the end of lap 22.
The 42-year-old was up to second in LMP2 and fifth overall by lap 27 by which point his double stint on tyres was starting to take its toll. Luis Diaz slipped past and Brabham held third in class until James Rossiter in the Acura briefly gained position until Brabham re-took the place as the leading Audis made for the pits on lap 43. Diaz led from Brabham before pitting, leaving Brabham to head the field on lap 45. With one hour and 45 minutes run, Brabham made a second stop to hand over the driving duties to team mate Scott Sharp.
Despite three safety car periods in the first hour, the field enjoyed just over one and a half hours of green flag racing but it was clear that further full course cautions and pitstop strategy would be the deciding factors. Sharp delivered a solid stint to lie second overall and second in LMP2 as the safety car was called out once again around lap 73 and with one hour and 15 minutes to go Sharp pitted from the lead.
With what appeared to be another prolonged full course caution, the Patron Highcroft Racing team seized the opportunity for Brabham to retake the helm and so Sharp pitted again. Brabham rejoined the field but in a genius strategic move, the team brought him back in straightaway to take on fuel. Despite the splash and dash, it was clear that the Acura would be tight on fuel and Brabham rejoined the fray in eighth and sixth overall, mindful that further safety car periods could well dictate the race result.
One hour of racing remained when the safety car went in at the end of lap 77 for what would be just 10 minutes of green flag racing before another full course yellow, at which point the seven leading cars dived for the pits. With the team's strategy coming right into play, Brabham led the field from lap 85, with Adrian Fernandez in the Acura second and Franck Montagny in the Andretti Acura third, signalling another nail-biting ALMS race finish.
A storming restart from the sportscar veteran to start lap 88 with 35 minutes to go saw Brabham secure the lead six seconds clear of Fernandez. But a suspected left rear suspension failure called a halt to Fernandez's race on lap 89 triggering a sixth safety car period. The incident, however, meant that Brabham would not have to pit again and that it would be a straight run to the chequered flag.
As twilight descended at Road America, Brabham defended well from Montagny at the restart on lap 93 and continued to set impressive lap times as the race approached the final 15 minute marker. Behind Brabs, Marco Werner was now up to second and when Brabham was blocked by traffic on lap 97 the Audi took the lead, also allowing Montagny past. But Montagny's race concluded at Canada corner the following lap while navigating traffic, causing a seventh full course yellow.
Ten minutes to go and Brabham was leading LMP2 while lying second overall behind Werner as the field circulated under the safety car. Although the period once again helped Brabham to conserve fuel it also allowed championship title rival Timo Bernhard into fourth and second in class when Patrick Long had to pit.
Thankfully the field was released with less than five minutes remaining but, with the pack closed up once again, Marcel Fassler was able to get the run for second place at the restart. Regardless, Brabham's relentless pace ensured that he remained unchallenged for the remaining laps to clinch his third class victory of the season and a place on the podium. Not to mention 20 vital championship points and four points over title rivals Dumas and Bernhard.
"It feels great to have secured our third class win of the season," said Brabs. "We were really strong at the beginning of the race but we chose not to change the tyres and they started to go off causing me to drop back. Scott did a great stint and the safety car period played in our favour when we made sure we took on as much fuel as possible. It was a great recovery from rejoining down in eighth position, the further safety cars worked our way and if I hadn't got caught up on the back markers I could have had a shot at the win. But we aren't interested in fighting the LMP1 Audis, just the rest of LMP2. I managed to keep Timo [Bernhard] behind me and, although I would have liked a couple of the Acuras to finish ahead of the Penske Porsche, we've still earned vital points, so a fantastic result."