Patron Highcroft wins Utah GP in a shootout
Patr¢n Highcroft Racing scored its third consecutive victory in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n on Sunday with a hard-fought victory in the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix. Simon Pagenaud drove the final 1:45 in the team’s HPD ARX-01c, and the Patr¢n Highcroft crew took advantage of a quick final pit stop to beat Drayson Racing’s Emanuele Pirro to the line by 19.116 seconds at Miller Motorsports Park.
“Coming in to this weekend we knew it would be the toughest race, so that’s what makes it so satisfying - having a package that is not as appealing as others on paper,” said David Brabham, Pagenaud’s teammate who drove the opening stint. “So to come here a bit against the odds shows what’s so special with this great team. We were trying to decide what to do (for the last stop). We could watch what the others were going to do. We asked Simon if they (the Michelin tires) could go another 20 minutes and he said they'd do just fine and they did.”
Pagenaud, who qualified on pole position, and Brabham haven’t lost since the Long Beach round in April. Sunday’s victory was a hard-fought one considering a couple of disadvantages for the Patr¢n Highcroft car. The high altitude and long front-straight favored the bigger cars like the Drayson Lola-Judd and the turbocharged prototypes in the field.
No problem for PHR’s dynamic duo, especially with quick pit work. The team’s final stop was 18 seconds quicker than the final stop for Drayson. Pagenaud pitted 19 minutes later, and the Patr¢n Highcroft crew short-filled the fuel tank. As a result, the team gained 18 seconds worth of advantage.
“Thanks to the PHR team for what they did in the pits,” Pagenaud said. “We were a bit loose from the lack of rear wing but we got it back toward the end. I kept pushing and kept pushing to make good lap times and I could then take the lead again during pit stops. Being able to take the win is just amazing.”
Brabham started in the car from the point but got shuffled back to fifth place by the first turn due to the massive frontstretch that allowed the bigger engines to outpace the ARX-01c. But the pit work and the HPD’s advantage in the corners helped erase what had been a nearly 15-second lead for Pirro in the closed-top coupe.
He and Jonny Cocker led twice for 32 laps. Brabham and Pagenaud combined to lead three times for 36 laps.
“The pit stop again was amazing, it rocketed us into the lead,” Brabham said. “If we were a bit more back it would have made it extra difficult for Simon. Hats of to the Patr¢n Highcroft team for coming back after the start and winning this race.”
The pairing also increased their championship lead in LMP to 11 points over Muscle Milk Team CytoSport’s Klaus Graf. He and Greg Pickett placed third, 90 seconds behind the winning car.
Although it just missed out on its first Series victory, Drayson Racing was the prototype winner in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge, a competition within the race that rewards overall performance and environmental efficiency.
“It was a really good race. Scott did a good job to open and it was important to watch the tires,” said Bouchut, who led for the majority of his stint. “The car was really good all weekend and very easy to drive. Sometimes you make mistakes because you are not focused on what you are doing. I decided to drive easy sometimes and made some mistakes and then regained my focus. It’s easy to get in to the trap of then pushing too hard and making risky moves.”
As has been the case at each event this season, LMPC teams had to adjust to a track on which many had not raced and that the ORECA FLM09 had never turned a lap. With four races in the course of six weeks, the team that can adapt the quickest will have the biggest advantage. So far, that has been Level 5.
“This really goes back to our team,” said team owner Tucker. “They take a lot of time preparing our cars. We’ve had to make a few modifications to handle endurance racing. Overall we’ve been very fortunate to be where we are. My hat’s off to them. Our team is going to be back at home base for two days over the next 45 days. We have to keep those guys focused and happy.”
Max Hyatt and Alex Figge placed third in class for PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. The duo, racing together for the first time, led in LMPC early and finished on the same lap as the GETG entry.
It was the first victory for Bruni and Melo since a season-opening victory at Sebring in March when they teamed with Pierre Kaffer. Bruni qualified on the class pole position and swapped the lead in the early goings with the BMW before he and Melo settled into a steady and consistent rhythm. It was something that had been missing at Long Beach and Mazda Raceway earlier this year.
“We needed this victory,” said Bruni, who won in his first race at Miller Motorsports Park. “Jaime and I have had such bad luck the last two or three months, wherever we’ve been. We’ve had three consecutive pole positions in the ALMS and more in Europe but we had to win - we couldn’t finish second. We dominated every practice, qualifying and the race, leading unless because of a pit stop. We had to win, there’s no question about it.”
The victory moved Melo and Bruni into the class championship lead by two points over Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long. They were fifth in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
“I drove the last hour and a half so it was quiet warm, but the tires were so good and very impressive,” said Melo, who won for Risi at the circuit in 2006. “It was important for us, especially after the bad result in Le Mans. It’s really important (to have a second Risi car in the race)… It would be beneficial for the rest of the year. I think there were the four Ferraris in the top 10. So that is great for Ferrari and great for Michelin, a good showing for both brands.”
Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Johnny O’Connell placed third in class. Four manufacturers – Ferrari, BMW, Chevrolet and Porsche – made up the GT top-five.
Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Ferrari of Ed Brown and Guy Cosmo won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge.
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Tim Pappas won their second straight GT Challenge race for Black Swan Racing. Bleekemolen finished nearly a full minute ahead of TRG’s Andy Lally and Henri Richard, who were hampered late by a penalty for a pitlane infraction. The Black Swan car took advantage of a separate pit strategy that resulted in the Porsche stopping one less time than the TRG entry, which made the difference.
“The guys at Black Swan have been spending a lot of time working hard with a lot of preparation,” said team owner Pappas. “We chased our tails a little bit on the test day but things really came together on the test day and Jeroen put in a great lap for qualifying. For me, there was pressure starting out front. Some teams stopped early and I was able to stay out for awhile. The team consistently did the fastest pit stops of our class. When you’re beating everyone in the pits by 20-30 seconds, that makes a big difference.”
Black Swan led the entire six-hour race at Mazda Raceway to earn its initial win. A repeat performance would have been unrealistic, Bleekemolen said but the biggest goal ended up being the end result.
“I had a great stint. I had the car in the lead and was able to keep it there for a long time,” the Dutch driver said. “We were on a little different strategy than the others so we weren’t going to lead the whole way. I was pretty disappointed when (the World Cup final) was tied after 90 minutes and I had to get in the car. There are probably a lot of people back home who are crushed. But I’m very happy with our win. It’s much more important to me to win this race!”
Alex Job Racing’s Butch Leitzinger and Juan Gonzalez had finished second but were excluded in post-race inspections following a ride-height violation. TRG moved to second, and the WERKS II entry of Robert Rodriguez and Galen Bieker placed third.
Leitzinger and Gonzalez still retained their championship lead in the class.
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