Brabham Suffers Setback At Sebring The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and opening American Le Mans Series round of the season proved to be a battle of resilience for David Brabham and the Patron Highcroft Racing team, at the Sebring ...
Brabham Suffers Setback At Sebring
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and opening American Le Mans Series round of the season proved to be a battle of resilience for David Brabham and the Patron Highcroft Racing team, at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida on Saturday 21 March. Brabham, together with teammates Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti, battled against numerous challenges for over 10 hours, but despite retiring from a respectable fifth place with just 1 hour and 50 minutes remaining, the team scored 18 championship points on the ARX-02a's LMP1 race debut.
Prior to the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, Brabham experienced a vast change in horsepower when he swapped his Patron Highcroft Acura to take the wheel of one of his father's racing cars for the first time.
In 1959, Sir Jack took his Formula One World Championship fight to the final round of the season, the US Grand Prix at Sebring, where he was forced to push his Cooper Climax T51 over the finish line after running out of fuel with just half a mile remaining. His fourth place finish was enough to seize the championship spoils and his first of three F1 crowns.
Nearly fifty years later, to begin a series of golden anniversary celebratory events, David poignantly re-enacted that historic racing moment and also conducted a number of parade laps in the Cooper Climax before the green flag fell on his first LMP1 race for Acura.
Naturally, it was a moving moment for Sir Jack's youngest son, David, who commented: "It was pretty cool to drive one of my father's cars for the first time in front of the Sebring crowd, it really meant a lot. It was a great experience to re-enact that memorable finish and repeat a bit of motor racing history that happened 50 years ago. Looking back, I dread to think what it was like for my father to push the car all that way, let alone the safety implications, but it was a wonderful opportunity to remember my father's achievements all those years ago."
After qualifying sixth, Brabham secured fifth at the start of the 2009 season opener, and 100th ALMS race, and remained in position until the #08 Peugeot passed having started from the pit lane. After completing his first stop for fuel on lap 26, Brabham continued to post constantly improving lap times before losing time after contact with the #40 Ford GT 20 laps later.
Sharp took the helm approaching the 1 hour and 40 minute mark and continued to maintain sixth position during a solid 90 minute stint, followed by Franchitti who took over after 3 hours and 7 minutes of racing had taken place. A long pit stop from the #07 Peugeot promoted the Patron Highcroft Acura to fifth on lap 144 before Franchitti pit to handover to Brabham for his second stint after 153 laps.
No sooner had Brabham joined the fray he returned to the pits to serve a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane by Franchitti. By half race distance, the Patron Highcroft Acura had completed 185 laps and Brabham continued to improve his lap times, stopping the clocks on 1 minute 45.664 seconds to record the car's fastest lap.
Continuing on a charge, Brabham suffered a setback after 6 hours and 30 minutes when he spun while chasing a lapped car and made contact with the tyre barrier, causing slight damage to the rear of the car. With the Acura suffering from starter motor issues, Brabham had difficulty getting the car restarted but managed to return to the pit lane to pass the reins to Sharp.
The Patron Highcroft crew did a fantastic job to change the rear body work and wing assembly, as well as an electrical component. Although the starter motor again proved troublesome, Sharp managed to rejoin the race and maintain fifth despite losing three laps on the leaders.
Sharp moved up to fourth before pitting to change over with Franchitti approaching the 8 hours and 10 minute mark, when the #66 de Ferran Acura endured a lengthy pit stop from which the car would eventually retire.
The Patron Highcroft Acura, however, was suffering from a hydraulics leak that required the fluids to be topped-up and, with the necessary works to the car complete, Franchitti finally resumed racing after 8 hours and 26 minutes in sixth with nine laps lost.
With three hours remaining, the team had completed 267 laps in nine hours and regained fifth position from the #15 LMP2 Acura. Forty minutes later, Franchitti pit to change with Brabham with 288 laps accomplished. Another prolonged pit stop, however, saw Brabham rejoin back in sixth but he soon managed to catch and pass the P2 Acura to re-take fifth place.
As 10 hours of racing passed the team had completed 296 laps but Brabham dived in to the pit lane 12 minutes later reporting a transmission problem. Furious work and investigations by the Patron Highcroft crew came to no avail and although the team continued work in the paddock with the determination to rejoin the fray and finish the race, the car was forced to retire.
Despite the retirement, Brabham and the team still secured fifth in LMP1 on the timesheets with a total of 302 laps and, with 70 per cent of the race winner's total laps completed, collected 18 championship points - an astonishing achievement considering the Acura's first race outing in such challenging conditions.
Brabham commented: "Obviously, we would have liked both Acuras to finish the race but a lot has still been achieved in our first LMP1 race. We came to Sebring in the knowledge that we were not 100 per cent ready but what we have learned here will certainly prove an invaluable help for the rest of the season.
"The car balance got better and better as the race wore on but we weren't quick enough to match the diesel-powered cars. I made two uncharacteristic errors which wouldn't have had much of an effect on the race but I was unable to restart the car on either occasion and that is where we lost some time. The Patron Highcroft team did a fantastic job and have worked tirelessly with lots of late nights, not just this week but throughout the last few months. We've achieved a huge amount in our first race of the season and, although it shows that we aren't quite ready yet, our progression is really encouraging."