Brabham & Highcroft Denied Debut Le Mans Podium London, UK -- Sunday, June 13, 2010; David Brabham and Highcroft Racing's faultless second place in LMP2 was stolen away in the 20th hour of the Le Mans 24 Hours 2010, a cooling issue ending ...
Brabham & Highcroft Denied Debut Le Mans Podium
London, UK -- Sunday, June 13, 2010; David Brabham and Highcroft Racing's faultless second place in LMP2 was stolen away in the 20th hour of the Le Mans 24 Hours 2010, a cooling issue ending the team's dream debut and Brabham's hopes to secure a fourth consecutive class title at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In the experienced hands of Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Marco Werner, the Highcroft crew made an awesome race debut in France, immediately setting an impressive pace.
As predicted, the class battle between Highcroft and HPD rivals Strakka raged from the flag with Brabham holding steady in second. The only other car running on the lead lap for near-on 10 hours, turn perfect stints by the drivers saw the Malaria No More car take the lead on more than one occasion.
Despite a steep learning curve running the new aero kit, the Highcroft car's only troubles up until the cooling issue included the square sum of a handling imbalance and an unfortunate series of punctures caused by debris on the track.
Sterling stints by Werner and then Brabham clawed back the gap to two laps before disaster struck and the team's debut dreams began to fade as the clock ticked away.
Regardless, Brabham and the team's outstanding first-time efforts haven't gone un-noted and the reigning American Le Mans Series Champions leave Le Mans as serious contenders for the 2011 re-match.
"It's not the end of the world in the grand scheme of things but it was a tough race," said Brabham. "We all had problems with the balance early on but it came good and we caught back up. It would have been a close race but I'm not sure we had enough to beat Strakka who had a faultless run. They were quicker but we definitely deserved a class podium and top ten finish."
"The result wasn't what we wanted but you have to take a step back and appreciate this was our first Le Mans. We didn't arrive here with an aero kit we've run for months; we did our testing mid week and during the race.
"It's been a fantastic effort by Highcroft, everyone worked hard and the car was bullet proof until the cooling issue, so we've got a lot to take away for the rest of this season and Le Mans 2011. Highcroft has been on the up since the start of the Acura programme in 2007 and this is our first major blow, so in some respects its appropriate timing for the team's development."
Brabham was bestowed with Highcroft's inaugural Le Mans starting honours, the 2009 outright race winner clean away before the first full course caution triggered 30 minutes circulating under the safety car. Despite struggling with an imbalance, Brabham cemented second place and 18th overall with a healthy margin to third in class before pitting.
A damaged windscreen hampered the initial part of Franchitti's stint, and first outing in a prototype at Le Mans, while Highcroft continued to run a lap longer than its Strakka Racing rivals.
Werner took the class lead in his first stint during the pit stop cycle with 18 hours 35 to go. A right rear puncture forced him to pit twice in as many laps but Highcroft re-took the class lead when the 42 car spun under yellows in the seventh hour, ending his stint 53 seconds ahead.
Brabham returned to race into the darkness after 6 hours and 45 minutes 14th overall and holding second. Within 20 minutes the triple Le Mans class winner closed to within seven seconds of Strakka as the lead gap continued to swing through the pit stops.
Clocking times quicker than the 42 car, Brabham kept in contention to lie 30 seconds adrift with 15 hours to go after time lost to take on fresh Michelins after reporting a vibration.
A substantial chunk of time was lost by the third puncture but the situation was salvaged thanks to sensational driving from Franchitti who nursed the car and deflated tyre around almost an entire lap without a scratch.
Just past the halfway point Werner closed the three lap gap to get Highcroft on par with the lead car within 90 minutes before a rear wing change was required due to loss of downforce.
Brabham started the dawn assault in the 15th hour of racing 13th overall, cranking up the pace to record the car's fastest lap with less than 8.5 hours remaining.
His 17 years Le Mans experience evident lapping the fastest of the P2 field, Brabham topped his and the car's best time within the hour, narrowing the gap to two laps with 7 hours left.
Delivering a quadruple stint, Brabs chipped away at the P2 lead, concluding 3 hours at the wheel and his last turns of the Le Mans 24 Hours 2010 11th overall.
Heartbreak lurked just around the corner for Highcroft, a water pressurisation problem forcing the car into the garage for 2.5 hours in total but despite Highcroft's stellar efforts and exploratory installation laps, the issue could not be completely resolved.
As the Rolex clock counted down to the final 10 minutes, Franchitti fired up the Highcroft car one last time and left the garage to take the chequered flag to classify 25th - the sound of Strakka Racing applause, marking the Highcroft squad's sensational debut efforts, echoing down the pit lane.
Brabham said: "I've not experienced many punctures at Le Mans but today we had three which lost us time. We also changed the entire rear wing assembly, as a flap had broken seriously affecting the downforce, and the car's balance really improved as a result.
"The car was much more driveable in my final stint. I was in such a good rhythm and everything was working well so we decided to stay out for a quadruple session.
"It's been fantastic driving alongside Marino and Marco for Highcroft's first Le Mans. They both did a fantastic job, just jumping in the car and getting on with the job even when the car was a challenge. It's been a great partnership and the spirit throughout the team carried us through."
The racing action may be over but fans can still help Brabham and Highcroft Racing raise money for the Malaria No More 24 Hours of Le Mans campaign, backed by www.radiolemans.com Fans can donate by visiting www.milestoendmalaria.org or bid for major autographed souvenir items on the special Ebay site at www.milestoendmalaria.org/auction