BITTERSWEET DAY FOR PATRON HIGHCROFT ON THE STREETS OF LONG BEACH Scott Sharp LONG BEACH, CA, Saturday, April 18, 2009: Patron Highcroft Racing endured a bittersweet afternoon in today's Tequila Patron ...
BITTERSWEET DAY FOR PATRON HIGHCROFT ON THE STREETS OF LONG BEACH
Scott Sharp LONG BEACH, CA, Saturday, April 18, 2009: Patron Highcroft Racing endured a bittersweet afternoon in today's Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series event at Long Beach with a possible race victory taken away by penalty by a race official.
After starting from pole position, Scott Sharp lost the lead to de Ferran Motorsport's Simon Pagenaud in turn one of the opening lap but quickly set chase after the sister Acura ARX-02a LMP1 car.
Sharp pounced on the #66 Acura on lap 22, using traffic to good effect to force a pass at the end of the back straight. The American star then opened up a handy lead before entering the pits to hand over to his Australian team-mate David Brabham on lap 48 after 62 minutes.
However, an IMSA pit lane official imposed a 20 second penalty at the stop - alleging the Patron Highcroft Racing fire extinguisher crew member was not wearing an appropriate helmet.
The penalty - which actually kept the car stationary for 24 seconds - was imposed despite the fact that the helmet has passed tech scrutineering at each ALMS event and that it was the same helmet used by the team since the commencement of the Acura program in 2007.
The team has appealed the penalty and is awaiting a decision by race officials.
After the penalty was served, David Brabham began a charge after Gil de Ferran and brought the gap from 28 seconds down to six seconds late in the race.
A yellow flag caution period with three minutes remaining gave the team a glimmer of hope of a late race pass for the lead. A fire aboard a GT2 Corvette had brought out the yellow flag, but the race finished under caution - denying the team one last chance of regaining the lead.
Despite the disappointment, Patron Highcroft Racing retain a 21 point lead in the LMP1 championship.
The team also completed an additional 149.5 miles in its race to help end malaria deaths in Africa through its Miles to End Malaria Campaign. After today's result, the team added a further $1,555.51 to the fundraising effort - bringing the season total to $14,911.01.
"You hate to lose one this way especially when nobody did anything wrong. We got a bogus penalty and when we later heard that the equipment was fine and the fire extinguisher guy has been wearing the same helmet for the past couple of years - that is really a shame because the car was running great and I think we could have won this one.
"The car was really good. Simon got me at the start but I was patient and reeled him in. We seemed to get stronger and stronger as the race progressed and I was able to equal my best lap time with ease.
"On days like today when things happen like this you still have to get points so it is not a total disaster.
"Just as easily something could have happened like a mechanical problem or a crash so we will now look forward to Salt Lake with a handy points lead."
"The penalty completely changed the whole race. The cars are so evenly matched that you can't afford to sit in the pit lane for that long and still challenge for the win.
"We got the gap down to as low as six seconds and when the yellow came out I thought we might have had a chance to challenge on the restart but the fire with the GT2 Corvette was too severe and we never got the chance to go green again.
"The de Ferran guys have been waiting a long time to win, so congratulations to them. We still got great points for our championship so that is good and we move on to the next race.
"Scott did a great job in his stint. He didn't panic after the de Ferran car got by at the start and made a great move to get back the lead.
"He really controlled the race and I think we could have continued to do so if we didn't get that penalty."
"Hats off to the de Ferran boys for winning the race. They drove a great race and we had a very exciting battle going back and forth through traffic.
"On our first pit stop the IMSA official incorrectly assessed a 20 second penalty for us for our fire extinguisher guy wearing the wrong type of helmet. We were subsequently told that we shouldn't have received the penalty, but it had already been served.
"They actually held us for 24 seconds. We had no choice but to protest the decision and it is pending review.
"As far as the Patron Highcroft crew are concerned, I couldn't be happier, we did everything absolutely perfectly today.
"Scott probably drove his best ever race in the American Le Mans Series - he did a brilliant job.
"David got in the car and pulled a 28 second gap down to six seconds at one stage before the final yellow flag.
"We didn't get the opportunity to fight at the end but to be so close despite the penalty is particularly bittersweet"