Road Atlanta: Highcroft Racing preview

PATRÓN HIGHCROFT TARGET BACK-TO-BACK TITLES AT PETIT LE MANS DANBURY, CT, Monday, September 27, 2010: Patrón Highcroft Racing is only one race away from claiming back-to-back American Le Mans Series championships, but the Honda Performance ...

PATRÓN HIGHCROFT TARGET BACK-TO-BACK TITLES AT PETIT LE MANS

DANBURY, CT, Monday, September 27, 2010: Patrón Highcroft Racing is only one race away from claiming back-to-back American Le Mans Series championships, but the Honda Performance Development factory-backed squad is aware the task ahead can't be taken lightly.

To claim the 2010 crown, Highcroft need only to complete 70 per cent of the LMP2 class winner's race distance at this week's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

But with a huge field of 45 cars crammed into the 2.54 mile circuit, keeping out of trouble will be the key target for David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti.

Brabham and Pagenaud currently hold a 16-point advantage over Porsche RS Spyder driver Klaus Graf.

The team's championship assault was set-up by three consecutive victories earlier this season at Long Beach, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Salt Lake City.

Remarkable consistency has been the true key. The Highcroft team is the only prototype squad to record podium finishes in every race this season.

The return of Franchitti - an LMP2 class winner in last year's rain shortened event - brings added firepower to the Highcroft squad. Franchitti scored the class pole at Sebring and anchored the team's Laguna Seca victory to score his first overall ALMS win earlier this year.

Being classified as a race finisher after 70 per cent will clinch the driver's, team's, manufacturer's and engine championships for Brabham/Pagenaud, Highcroft, and HPD.

Highcroft will also target a trouble-free week after twice having to build a brand new car in less than 24 hours after practice crashes in the past two years.

After combining the LMP1 and LMP2 classes for the majority of the season, the prototype classes will again be split at Road Atlanta with the event also forming part of the newly created ACO Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.

The upcoming Road Atlanta challenge also mirrors Highcroft's 2009 championship crown.

At last year's season finale at Laguna Seca, the team also had to complete 70 per cent of the race. Brabham and Scott Sharp claiming third place overall to take the first ever ALMS LMP1 titles for the drivers, Highcroft and Acura.

Patrón Highcroft Racing also hold the points lead in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge after claiming three wins this season in the prestigious environmental award which rewards the best overall performance, fuel efficiency, and smallest environmental impact throughout the race.

On track action for the final round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón Highcroft Racing kicks off on Wednesday afternoon with a 90-minute practice session.

Two one-hour practice sessions are scheduled for Thursday followed by a two-hour night session from 7:00pm where all three drivers must complete three laps in the darkness.

Friday's action includes a further one-hour session at 9:30am with prototype qualifying scheduled at 3:50pm.

Raceday on Saturday features a 25-minute warm-up at 9:15am with the green flag flying at 11:30am. Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda2 will be staged over 10 hours or 1000 miles - whichever comes first.

DAVID BRABHAM
"It is amazing to think there is only one race to go - the season has really raced by.

"We have had a fantastic battle throughout the year and the team has really done an outstanding job.

"We've got one more task to do and that is get to Petit Le Mans where the entire team is looking forward to getting the job done and clinching the title.

"The mindset for us for Petit Le Mans is very simple. We have gone into every race this year with the intention of winning. We have to keep that up and keep that thought in our mind.

"As soon as we start thinking about potential problems, we will end up having them.

"It is better that our vision is very clear that we concentrate on doing the best job possible which will be a win.

"There will be a lot of cars and lots of traffic but the more you think about that the more of a problem it will be. It really is better that we don't think about it and keep in our minds a very clear vision of what we want to achieve.

"I know the track at Road Atlanta very well and we have finished the championship here in the past and always had a great crowd and atmosphere. I'd like to think we'd have that again. "The championship is down to the wire and it is going to be very exciting and I'm looking forward to doing the job with Simon and Marino."

SIMON PAGENAUD
"We have an interesting task ahead of us to race hard but keep the car safe to take the championship and these are the type of challenges which I really love.

"That is what is really cool about racing and I really enjoy it when it goes down the wire.

"It hasn't been an easy championship for us and I am very happy to head into the final round with a good points lead. It will be very important for us to get to 70 per cent of the race to score points, that is the main challenge but we also want to race for the win as well.

"I'm very excited about the entire event. There is a very large field and it will be great for the fans - 45 cars, lots of manufacturers and teams from all over the world. It will be fantastic.

"It will be a great to celebrate the end of the championship and I am really looking forward to it.

"Once we get to 70 per cent and achieve our goal of taking the championship, then it will be all out to really go for the win. It would be a great way to finish the season and that is our goal.

"It is also going to be great to have Marino back with David and I for the final round. He has done a great job all season both in and out of the car. We're delighted to have him back in the car with us."

MARINO FRANCHITTI
"On a personal level having won my class at Petit Le Mans last year, it would be great to repeat that again in 2010 with Highcroft racing.

"That will be our goal this weekend but we can't lose sight of why we compete and that is to win the championship and our main aim is to get to 70 per cent and then it is really time to go race. That's what the Highcroft boys did last year and we'll try and do that again this year. I'm looking forward to supporting David and Simon in completing their quest to be ALMS Champions as they more than deserve it with the performances they have put in this year, as does the whole crew who have been faultless.

"I really have had a great opportunity both in and out of the car at Highcroft Racing this year but I have been desperate to get back aboard the car as It has been a long time since Le Mans and I can't wait to get started this week. As a driver this year has given me the opportunity to take a step back and see every little aspect of how this team operates and learn a lot.

"It has allowed me to see what goes on, plug into the engineering stand and see how the decisions that are being made. I think that has given me a much better perspective of how we go about things and all the processes that go into every decision and therefore has made me far more rounded driver.

"I'm delighted that the car count is up for Petit - this is the way these big sports car races should be with lots of cars in all classes. All that traffic is a great challenge and one that I love."

MALARIA NO MORE

While the team continues the race to retain its ALMS title crown in 2010, the team will also continue its race to defeat an even bigger rival - malaria deaths in Africa.

Patrón Highcroft Racing has again teamed up with Malaria No More to raise funds and awareness for this disease which kills a child every 30 seconds in Africa. The team also ran a special Malaria No More livery at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to promote the cause.

With the purchase of a simple $10 mosquito bed net, fans can help combat this disease - either by visiting www.milestoendmalaria.org or just texting the word "MILES" to 85944 on their cell phone.

Fans can also bid for exclusive autographed souvenirs and unique at-track experiences at www.milestoendmalaria.org/auction.

DRIVER'S EYE - ROAD ATLANTA

Q. Road Atlanta, what is your favorite corner and why?

DAVID BRABHAM: Favorite corner at Road Atlanta is probably turn six. As you approach it you're going up and down through the esses. The corner has a camber to it as you turn in and you can really go in there quite fast, carry a lot of speed into the apex and allow the banking to hold you in there. So you've got to commit into that corner.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Road Atlanta. I love Turn one. Again, I love fast corners. Turn one you have to be super precise, aim for the apex and avoid the bumps on the outside which could put you off track. And you have to raise a little bit the throttle going into the corner and go back flat midcorner so the car can stick on the ground. It's a mental process.

MARINO FRANCHITTI: My favorite turn at Road Atlanta has to be turn 1. Since they resurfaced it and took out a lot of the bumps, in the prototype cars, we go through there, sometimes we drop one gear, sometimes we can go through there flat if we have the right downforce package on.

And it's banked and the Gs are huge, and it's just a thrill every lap to go through there, just really - it's one of those corners where you just smile in your helmet as you go through.

Q. What's the most challenging aspect of Petit Le Mans?

DAVID BRABHAM: Well, a particular one is a long race, and you've got to get through the traffic cleanly. It's tough on the cars. It's a tough race to win and you've got to get absolutely everything right.

SIMON PAGENAUD: The length. The length of the race itself is a special mental process. You really have to have a strong car, reliable. You need to think about finishing the race before the performance. But you need the car to be suitable for all three drivers so you can start the race with a clear mind and be sure that everything's going to be okay.

MARINO FRANCHITTI: Petit Le Mans, the Georgia clay is the most challenging aspect. Because as the race goes on, people go off, they bring on more and more of the dirt. Although the track picks up grip and improves, it's hard to clean out that clay.

And especially in a prototype car, when you're going off line, as the race goes on not only do you have the normal debris of tires and shards of carbon fiber to deal with, there's a lot of that dust and clay. And it just makes it very easy to make an error and to damage the car. So I would say that Georgia clay is definitely our biggest challenge.

Q. The secret to a good lap at Road Atlanta?

DAVID BRABHAM:  I've probably done a "gazillion" laps around Road
Atlanta.  It's a great circuit.  I love it.

The secret to a good lap there, again, a bit like Road America, because we've got to run as little downforce as we possibly can and still get around the corners. And if we can achieve that, then we're going to have not only a fast car, but good on fuel economy.

SIMON PAGENAUD: You need good straightline speed, because there's a long straight. But you also need a lot of downforce into the corners. So it's a balance between the two that you need to talk with your engineers before the qualifying or the race.

MARINO FRANCHITTI: Turn seven onto the backstretch is a very slow corner. But if you make an error there, it's such a long way to the bus stop at the end of the straight.

Not only do you lose maybe a tenth on the exit, but it multiplies to half a second by the end. So that's the most important corner on that track.

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

DAVID BRABHAM: I really wouldn't change it. I think it's a great circuit. I think the improvements that they've done over the years has been good. And, like I said, it's a real challenging circuit, and I wouldn't touch it.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Probably try to have safer runoffs. It's a difficult racetrack for that. When you go into the fast corners, you need to think twice about it.

MARINO FRANCHITTI: I would really love to extend the runoff through Turn 12. And I would love to go back to the old track without the chicane, just the experience coming under the bridge without lifting, that would be something else.

Q. What's your favorite Road Atlanta memory ?

DAVID BRABHAM: I think my favorite memory was winning Petit Le Mans in '99. We had a great battle with BMW. Eric Bernard, my teammate, was in the car towards the end and unfortunately the BMW of Jörg Muller crashed. We went through and won that race. So at that time that was a great victory for the team.

SIMON PAGENAUD: I love the racetrack itself. Every time I go there and get to drive on the track is a good memory.

MARINO FRANCHITTI: Well, I was disappointed in 2009 not to complete the race. But, without doubt, it's my happiest memory is to win my class at Petit Le Mans and to be standing on top of the podium there. It has very quickly become a very important race in the world of motorsport, and to win that and have it on your CV is something that is very, very good.

-source: phr

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Klaus Graf , Scott Sharp , Jorg Muller , Marino Franchitti