Brabham Makes History With Victory At Le Mans Sunday 14 June 2009, UK; David Brabham proudly took a place in the annals of Le Mans 24 Hours history with his first overall race and LMP1 victory, finally gifting Team Peugeot Total the coveted...
Brabham Makes History With Victory At Le Mans
Sunday 14 June 2009, UK; David Brabham proudly took a place in the annals of Le Mans 24 Hours history with his first overall race and LMP1 victory, finally gifting Team Peugeot Total the coveted spoils on home soil and ending an era of Audi domination at Le Mans.
The Australian and honorary Brit has finally achieved his dream of taking the laurels at Le Mans, sealing a hat trick of different class wins in the process and granting him membership to a select club of drivers that can claim the same. Brabham's teaming with Peugeot Sport, with the full backing of his Patron Highcroft Racing American Le Mans Series team and Acura, offered his first shot at race glory since 2003 with Bentley.
The 43 year-old's momentous victory has echoes of history repeating itself some 16 years after older brother Geoff took Peugeot to victory lane in 1993. Their father, Sir Jack, won the French Grand Prix in a car bearing his own name on the Bugatti circuit back in 1968, meaning David's efforts today marks a further hat trick of success for the family.
Brabham, who currently leads the ALMS LMP1 championship battle, once again teamed with Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz. The trio drove faultlessly, turning their fifth place on the grid in to the race lead after just over five hours and 50 minutes. A position they refused to relinquish for the rest of the race, accept through the course of the odd pit stop.
All in all it's been a record weekend for Brabham. On the eve of the 77th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the racing veteran was voted the second fastest sportscar driver in the world in a special poll conducted by www.speedtv.com, only second to his long-term friend and sparring partner Alan McNish.
The careers of 'Brabs' and 'Nishy' have been intertwined since the 1980s and the days of Formula Vauxhall Lotus. The pair fiercely fought for the British F3 title in 1989 before they carved their respective sportscar careers and resurrected their youthful battles. Unsurprisingly the two drivers remain good friends and McNish was one of the first to congratulate Brabham on his win today.
Fresh from the podium champagne celebrations, Brabham commented: "I think it might take a few days for this to sink in. It's all quite unbelievable. What can I say? I am delighted that we could take the win for the team who have done a magnificent job. We had a faultless race, as I've had for the past two years with Aston Martin Racing. There's been a lot of pressure on Peugeot and they've stepped up to the plate and delivered, it's fantastic.
"Our strategy was really to take care of the car; the tyres, the brakes -- particularly the front brakes which were wearing a bit more than we would have liked. We just agreed to adjust our driving styles and keep within a consistent lap time target. We were running at a restricted pace but other cars were having problems, so it worked out ok. We didn't make one mistake and that's what it takes to win this race.
"The amount of testing and analyses that Peugeot has done in the last six months is astounding. I don't think that I have ever been involved in a programme so big. But that's what it takes to beat Audi and Peugeot have done just that, which is really something.
"It was a joy to drive with Marc (Gene) and Alex (Wurz). They are both very fast and very consistent drivers. We all got on very well and kept our focus together. It's been a privilege driving with them.
"This victory obviously means a lot to me. I was standing on pit lane with around thirty minutes to go when my good friend Justin Bell from Speed TV put his cans on my head. I caught the tail end of a conversation between Speed and my brother Geoff in Australia. That was pretty cool -- definitely a personal highlight. I've just looked at my phone and I've got 63 texts already. I have received an enormous amount of support from my family, friends and work colleagues, and that means such a lot to me.
"I would sincerely like to thank Peugeot Sport for inviting me to be a part of this fantastic programme and giving me the chance to win. And if it wasn't for the backing of Patron Highcroft Racing, Acura and HPD, I wouldn't even be here. Thanks, guys."
The #9 Team Peugeot Total made a solid start in the hands of Wurz to maintain fifth and charge up to third within the first four minutes. Wurz made his second pit stop under the first safety car, caused by debris on the track left by the #7 Peugeot's puncture, to make an early handover to Gene.
Gene climbed through the front runners from fifth to third before passing Mike Rockenfeller in the #2 Audi for second, to trail the leading #8 Peugeot of Franck Montagny by just over one minute and 50 seconds.
Brabham jumped in to the hot seat approaching the three hour mark and joined the race in second, nearly three minutes down on the sister Peugeot. Clocking consistent lap times throughout his double stint on the same set of tyres, Brabham kept a constant gap of one lap to Stephane Sarrazin in the #8 Peugeot approaching the five hour marker. The second safety car period presented an obvious opportunity to switch drivers and Wurz took over from Brabham.
As daylight began to fade over the historic French circuit, a series of events ignited the race battle. Sebastien Bourdais in the #8 Peugeot lost 10 minutes in the garage and then Lucas Luhr suffered a heavy off that would retire the #2 Audi while the #3 Audi endured several trips to the pits.
Wurz charged in to the lead after five hours and 50 minutes to pull out a 43 second gap over the #1 Audi as the seventh hour approached. By the time Wurz switched with Gene an hour later that gap had doubled, with the #8 car now recovered to second place.
Brabham was back in the car as the 10th hour approached and holding a one lap lead over the #1 Audi now in the hands of Alan McNish. As darkness fell about the La Sarthe circuit and the 11th racing hour dawned, Brabham and McNish simultaneously picked up the race pace. The pair lapped consistently in the 3'28-3'29 bracket for much of the next hour but Brabham kept McNish at bay and retained the margin.
Brabham pit after a triple stint and Wurz took up the leading mantle nearing the 12th hour. At half distance the #9 Peugeot had completed 196 laps and continued to lead McNish with the #8 Peugeot third, just a few seconds adrift of the Audi.
Gene joined the fray with around 12 hours and 30 minutes of racing complete still with a one-lap buffer to the #8 Peugeot which had jumped the Audi. The safety car and medical support crews were scrambled at the 14th hour following Benoit Treluyer's sizeable accident in the #17 Pescarolo Peugeot from which he thankfully emerged unhurt.
The 45-minute safety car period cut the #9 car's lead down to 90 seconds until racing resumed and Gene increased that gap by over a minute with nine hours to go. A further 30 minute safety car period just 15 minutes later sliced the leading Peugeot's advantage once again.
Arguably the most experienced Le Mans driver in the field, Brabham took the wheel of the 908 HDi FAP again at 7am. Although Montagny in the second placed sister Peugeot closed a little on the race veteran, Brabham held station just over 90 seconds up the track.
With another triple stint in the bag and over 18 hours of racing complete, Brabham took the #9 Peugeot in to its 13th hour in the lead before handing over to Wurz.
Team Peugeot Total took the opportunity to re-fuel and change the rear deck on the #9 car with minimal delay during a further safety car period barely 30 minutes later. As the final five hours came in to sight, Wurz led Sarrazin by nearly one minute and 50 seconds.
And so the healthy margin remained as the race approached the final hour which wasn't without drama - there was time for one more safety car. The field was finally released for the last 40 minutes of racing but with a one lap advantage, bar any technical gremlins, the #9 car seemed unreachable.
The trio of Team Peugeot Total cars formed to lap line astern around the 8.4 mile circuit for the closing laps before Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian flanked Gene on his final run to the line and the chequered flag.