Brabham & Sharp return to Victory Lane
David Brabham and Scott Sharp ended de Ferran Motorsports’ four-race overall win streak Sunday with a close, tense victory in the Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Road America. Patr¢n Highcroft Racing’s Brabham beat Gil de Ferran to the checkered flag by 0.461 seconds.
Brabham and Sharp drove the Patr¢n Highcroft Acura ARX-02a to its first victory since St. Petersburg in early April. They gained four points on de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud in the LMP1 championship.
“I think we handled the car the best we have this year,” said Brabham, who leads the title hunt with Sharp by 13 points. “The left front was starting to push a little too much toward the end. I had reasonable heat on the right side tires and could maintain that gap from Gil. He was breathing down my neck; he is a great competitor.”
Brabham and Sharp won for the second straight season at Road America. They were LMP2 class winners last season by 0.867 seconds. It was just as - if not more - tense Sunday.
“We felt a little in a rut watching de Ferran win four in a row,” said Sharp, who also has SCCA and Trans-Am victories at the circuit to his credit. "It has been a little rough watching them close our points gap. Coming here, we knew we had to dig deep. It was a challenge though to get the car where we wanted it. We made changes last night and this morning. The yellows were in our favor. The team did a great strategy call. David did a great job at the end to hold Gil off – it was very exciting.”
The de Ferran and Patr¢n Highcroft Acuras swapped the lead four times in the first 55 laps, mostly on pit strategies. But the final one with seven minutes remaining set up the duel between close friends and even closer competitors.
“I had very little go through my mind because I wasn’t about to choke and let that lead go,” Brabham said. “So the best thing for me to do is not to think and just drive. When you start looking in the mirrors, you think ‘Don’t screw up’, and then you end up where you were looking. So I tried not to look.”
“Our guys are pretty good at strategy,” Sharp added. “I thought they had it very well thought out. We were off a little bit (with de Ferran) after they did that stop. They didn’t explain too much on the radio - but I think they wanted that so we would hammer down and just race.”
In LMP2, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing’s Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz won for the sixth time in seven races in their Acura ARX-01b with a 6.742-second victory over Dyson Racing’s Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti. The Lowe’s Fernandez crew elected not to change tires on its final pit stop with approximately 30 minutes left.
Fernandez and Diaz extended their championship lead to 55 points with three events – and 75 points –remaining on the season. Fernandez led the race overall late but didn’t have enough muscle to hold off the two P1 Acuras.
“I think the whole team did a great job today,” Diaz said. “In the start before the first caution our top speed wasn’t good. Fortunately, I realized behind the Mazda, our car was very good - very quick. From that point, I started playing with the fuel strategy and the guys did a great job guiding me and making sure we were in front of the competition. After that, I tried to stay close and save fuel.”
The strategy worked Sunday just like it did in Utah and last week at Mid-Ohio. The call for tires came at the same time Leitzinger’s crew put four fresh Michelins on the Lola-Mazda thinking the decision and new rubber would allow Leitzinger to run down the Acura.
“We wanted to stay ahead of the Dyson,” said Fernandez, who had pitted from the lead. “When I got into the car, I was already ahead of them. From there, I had to drive fast and stay ahead of them. Then I saw we had a long gap and I realized we could keep the tires if we needed to. We really didn’t know the pace they were going to have in the race. They were very fast in qualifying and in the race. We didn’t know their consistency. That is where we excelled - consistency. In that respect, they didn’t have the pace. Luis managed to stay with them and that was the key in the end.”
The Lowe’s Fernandez Acura also won its first MICHELIN GREEN X Challenge prototype trophy since St. Petersburg, a triumph that is awarded for overall performance, energy efficiency and environmental impact.
“We win races by being more efficient and with fuel consumption,” Fernandez said. “We always try to save as much fuel as we can and save the tires as much as possible. In racing, we try to push cars to the max but we still try to conserve tires and fuel. This gave us a nice advantage to stay in front.”
That was all they needed for BMW’s first victory in the American Le Mans Series since Petit Le Mans in 2001.
“I can hardly remember that far back,” said Auberlen, who was part of that lineup with Hans Stuck and Boris Said. “We have a new group of people that are so skilled. You give them enough time to develop the car and they’ll make it happen. Dunlop, our tire partner, has been working so hard. We were fast at Mid-Ohio and it didn’t go our way.
“There are three gigantic straightaways and the BMWs are known not to have such great straight-line speed. But on the long radius corners and with 50-50 weight distribution, the car is so balanced and really dances through. The Porsches and Corvettes seemed to be struggling through some of those corners.”
Dirk Mueller and Tommy Milner placed second in their BMW M3, and the Corvette Racing’s Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen placed third in their Corvette C6.R. The E85-powered car also won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge for the second straight event.
But the weekend belonged to BMW. The M3s were quickest in all four testing and practice sessions, qualified on pole and posted the fastest GT2 race lap.
“Bill and I called this one to ourselves,” said Hand, a first-time winner who also earned his first pole position Saturday. “We’ve been talking it up pretty well here. We felt like we had a good chance to win at Mid-Ohio but got hit by a prototype and we were really good at Lime Rock. It all starts when the car gets off the truck. I can’t say enough about the guys at BMW Rahal Letterman Racing. It came exactly as we thought it would. Once I got in the car, we basically had a lap in hand, and my job was not to get hit and not fall too far behind.”
The race wasn’t that easy though. Just as it did in other classes, the yellow flag stops and a long opening stint by Pickering put Melanie Snow on the attack throughout her stint.
“I started in the car and did what I could to get ahead,” said Melanie Snow, who won the first American Le Mans Series race at Sebring in 1999 with her husband along with Patrick Huisman. “We would pull out but then have to stop for fuel and then repass the rest of the guys. It was a big challenge this weekend running the Patr¢n GT3 Challenge by Yokohama.”
Pickering finally pitted just shy of the two-hour mark for a driver change, and Martin Snow gained the lap advantage in that period. One of the bigger challenges for Snow in his final stint was watching for the faster cars in the braking zones while yet being nearly as quick in a straight-line as the GT2 runners.
“Our car was really good,” he said. “I was able to maintain some pretty quick laps without being on the edge. When I caught up to someone, it was relatively easy. But when you get behind one of the GT2 cars and lose the clean air, you have to move over to gain the downforce back. They are also much quicker off the corners than we are. The traffic wasn’t too bad out there but when you get five or six of the GT2 cars around you, it’s almost as bad as being around one or two prototypes.”
Gruppe Orange’s second entry of Bob Faieta and Wesley Hoaglund, winners at Lime Rock in July, were third in the class.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Mobil 1 presents Grand Prix of Mosport at 3:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 30. The race will air live on SPEED. American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche and Living Timing & Scoring will be available at Racehub on americanlemans.com. Live coverage also can be heard on Sirius 126 and XM 242.
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