Road Atlanta: Highcroft Racing preview

PATRON HIGHCROFT READY FOR PETIT LE MANS CHALLENGE DANBURY, CT, Thursday, September 17, 2009: With two race wins in a row, Patron Highcroft Racing enters next week's endurance classic at Petit Le Mans with its sights firmly set on continuing...


DANBURY, CT, Thursday, September 17, 2009: With two race wins in a row, Patron Highcroft Racing enters next week's endurance classic at Petit Le Mans with its sights firmly set on continuing the team's strong form as the 2009 championship enters its final laps.

The Danbury, CT-based team scored victories at Road America and Mosport in the two most recent rounds of the American Le Mans Series and now holds a 17-point lead in the LMP1 championship.

The factory-backed Acura ARX-02a outfit has scored points in every round of the 2009 season - a critical factor in its championship lead. With 10 extra points available at the 1000 mile / 10 hour Atlanta event, ensuring a solid race finish will be a crucial step towards championship success.

While the season-long battle with de Ferran Motorsports' Acura has been a highlight, the LMP1 ranks at Petit Le Mans have swollen dramatically with two-car factory efforts from the diesel giants, Peugeot and Audi.

Additional LMP1 entries from the French Oreca squad (winners of the most recent round of the Le Mans Series in Europe) and the new British-based Drayson Racing outfit will ensure additional competition.

Patron Bee Petit Le Mans For the Atlanta event, championship leaders Scott Sharp and David Brabham will again be joined by IndyCar ace Dario Franchitti. The Scotsman drove with Patron Highcroft Racing at Sebring earlier this year and has enjoyed a standout season in the IndyCar championship - scoring four race wins and climbing to within 25 points of the championship lead with two races remaining.

Franchitti will fly into Atlanta after competing for Target Chip Ganassi Racing on the Twin-Ring Motegi oval in Japan, this weekend.

The 1000 miles at Petit Le Mans will enable the Patron Highcroft Racing squad to significantly boost its fundraising efforts through the Miles to End Malaria campaign.

With key supporters including Highcroft Racing, Tequila Patron and American Le Mans Series founder Dr. Don Panoz all pledging $5 per mile - the season tally for the Malaira No More inspired campaign will soar well past the $50,000 mark.

The program will enjoy the added support of former American Idol star Melinda Doolittle who will attend the race as a guest of the team and sing the National Anthem prior to the start of the race. Doolittle has previously travelled to Africa to support the Malaria No More cause and helped distribute mosquito nets.

Race fans can contribute as little as a penny per mile to the campaign at

The #9 Tequila Patron Acura will be on track for the first time on Wednesday, September 23 for the official test day. Thursday will feature three practice sessions including a night session, while qualifying takes place on Friday afternoon.

Broadcast live from flag to flag on SPEEDTV in the US and Motors TV in Europe, Petit Le Mans will go green at 11:15am on Saturday, September 26.

"The team has done a fantastic job and really dug deep after we had a disappointing weekend earlier in the year at Salt Lake City. From Lime Rock onwards we concentrated very hard on dotting every 'I' and crossing every 'T' and really looking at every area where we could make improvements.

"The next two races we were unlucky, but when things went our way we were able to then take two wins in a row.

"That has put us in a good position, but Petit is a big challenge because we will be out there for 10 hours and we have to be careful.

"For us, we will be following the old adage, 'to finish first, you must first finish.'

"We will be concentrating on doing everything we need to do to get to the end of that race.

"Last year, things fell apart for us at Petit, but we will be out to make amends this year. Those things happen sometimes and you just have to bounce back from that. With the team's dedication to the meticulous preparation of the car, that really bodes well for us.

"I really enjoy these longer races - whether it be here, Sebring, or even when I went to Le Mans. Road Atlanta is great too because I came here many times to watch my dad race. When I first started driving, I qualified for the SCCA Run-offs which was hard to do in your first year and I ended up winning that race which was fantastic."

"The season has gone very well for us and we now enter one of the most challenging races of the season with a points lead in the championship.

"That doesn't guarantee you anything at this stage because the 1000 miles at Petit Le Mans is a tough race and it is super important that we finish strongly and gain as many points as we can to enter the final race of the year with as big a points gap as possible between us and de Ferran.

"The way the regulations are at the moment the diesel cars still have a significant power advantage so for us, I'm not going there with any high expectations of winning the event, we just have to focus on scoring that solid finish and getting as many points as we can.

"The team has a great feel for the strategy required and despite the fact we might not have the overall pace due to the regulations, the way the overall team performs we should still perform strongly.

"Having Dario back onboard will be great and, compared to his last drive at Sebring, we should see significant improvements - both from the Acura and Dario himself. The last time he drove the car he was coming off a NASCAR season, but now he is in the middle of a very successful IndyCar year and I think that should help quite a bit.

"The car was very new at Sebring and we have developed it quite a bit so I think he'll notice a significant improvement at Petit Le Mans and it will give him a lot of confidence."

"In watching the job that the Patron Highcroft guys have done over the season and talking to the team about the development of the car, it appears the car has come a long way since I first drove it back at Sebring.

"Driving the sportscar feels completely different compared to the IndyCar - even though the overall lap times can sometimes be very similar.

"The cars are a lot different to drive, but I really enjoy working with the other drivers and comparing notes with David and Scott to get the car right. It was the same for me when I drove the P2 Acura at AGR, or at the Rolex 24 with the Ganassi guys.

"The long-distance element is a lot of fun. Traffic is such an issue in sportscar racing and that normally is not the case in IndyCar - everyone is normally running a similar pace.

"You really have to concentrate very hard on the traffic situation and plan your passing attempts very carefully - it brings a whole new dimension to your driving.

"The Patron Highcroft boys have been doing a great job all season and I would love to help them in some small way to achieve their championship goal. I'm very much aware of what my job is going to be at Petit."

Fastest Corner: Turn #1
Maximum Corner Speed: 245 kph (152 mph)
Maximum Lateral Gs: 4.0 G in Turn #1
Slowest Corner: Turn #7
Minimum Corner Speed: 100 kph (62 mph)
Fastest top speed: 290 kph (180 mph)
Percentage of lap on full throttle: 78%
Maximum Braking Gs: 3.1 G
Number of Brake Applications: 6
Gear Changes per lap: 22
Left Turns: 4
Right Turns: 9


What is your favorite corner and why?
"Turn one is probably my favorite. The cars are going through there so fast now that it takes a huge commitment.

"You take as little lift as possible then back on it in sixth gear. You used to have to brake and go down to fifth gear.

"If you have a lot of downforce you can probably do it flat, but the trick is to keep the car trimmed out as much as possible because of the long straights."

What is the most challenging aspect of Road Atlanta and Petit Le Mans?
"The track has quite a lot of grip so you really have to commit into the corners.

"It is surprising how quick you can actually go through the corners now.

"From the race perspective, because of the speed difference between the prototypes and the GT cars, the traffic plays a massive role here.

"You have to be able to get through there quickly without any issues with other cars."

What is the secret to a good lap at Road Atlanta?
"A bit like Road America, you really have to trim the car out as much as you can and be as brave as you can with the limited downforce."

If you could make a change to the circuit, what would it be?

"I really wouldn't want to change anything here. I have always enjoyed racing here. It is a very challenging circuit."

What is your favorite memory of Road Atlanta?
"Winning Petit Le Mans for Panoz back in 1999 with Eric Bernard and Andy Wallace.

"We were having a great dice with BMW and the way the strategy was going it was falling into their favor, but then Jorg Muller crashed with only a handful of laps and we were able to win."

-credit: phr

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Scott Sharp , Jorg Muller , Don Panoz , Chip Ganassi