Patrón Highcroft’s dreams of a class victory at Sebring went up in smoke today – literally. An electrical issue and subsequent small fire with three and half hours remaining delayed the reigning American Le Mans Series champions after they had build a dominant five lap lead.
Simon Pagenaud came into the pits to complete a triple-stint after eight and half hours of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida.
As his replacement teammate Marino Franchitti was about to enter the car, he noticed smoke coming from the “passenger” side of the HPD ARX-01c. An electrical issue had ignited a small fire which was quickly extinguished by the team.
Quick work from the Highcroft crew not only patched the damaged electrical system but ensured the car would run faultlessly for the remainder of the race. However, the 24 minutes the car remained stationary in the pits turned a five lap lead into a six lap deficit.
The efforts of Franchitti and David Brabham in the remainder of the race sliced that lead back to four laps but the Highcroft squad were forced to settle for second place in the LMP2 class behind the Porsche RS Spyder of Greg Pickett, Klaus Graff and Sascha Maassen.
The team finished fifth overall and completed 349 laps of the historic Sebring circuit – a result which exactly mirrors the team’s efforts from 2008.
Before the electrical issue, Pagenaud had completed a triple stint, extending the lead from three laps after six hours, to five laps at the end of his stint.
The team’s second place class finish netted the team 26 points in the combined LMP1/LMP2 championship – kicking off the 2010 American Le Mans Series presented by Patrón in a strong position, only four points off the championship lead.
Patrón Highcroft Racing will not set its sights one of its favorite ALMS venues – the streets of Long Beach. The team earned its first Series victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 2008 and also started from pole position there last season.
“I can’t help but feel a little bit flat at the end of the day. The car was running reliably, the pit-stops were excellent but we just picked up a bit of an electrical issue that cost us 24 minutes in the pits.
“You can’t afford to do that in these type of races. I think overall, there is always a positive to come out of this and what happened today will help us get even better prepared for the other long distance races and Le Mans as well.
“It is very important to finish well here and we’ve come away with a big handful of points.
“I had a great time driving with Simon and Marino for the first time and I think we made a for a very good combination.
“I’m really proud of all the guys on the team as well. They’ve worked incredibly hard and really have done an amazing job.”
“I had a great triple-stint in the afternoon. I was having fun out there and I thought they were going to leave me in there forever.
“The postitive thing from today was the fact that apart from the electrical glitch, the car ran faultlessly and it was very consistent through all temperature ranges.
“That is very encouraging and the Michelin tires worked very well on the car as well. The car was a lot of fun to drive all day.
“Unfortunately after we had an electrical problem after we had a five lap lead and by the time the guys could get it fixed, we were down six laps to the Muscle Milk guys.
“Finishing second in class and fifth overall is still a great result and I am really proud of the team. We scored a lot of points and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
“The Patrón Highcroft team were fantastic all day – the pitstops, the strategy, my teammates – everyone executed to the best of their abilities which is great to see so early in the season.
“I went to get in the car for my final double stint and noticed smoke and discovered there was a barbecue going in the passenger side. That wasn’t so good.
“Luckily the guys were on it quickly with a fire extinguisher and got it out quickly.
“The crew did an amazing job to get the car back on track. Not only did they fix the car so quickly, but to have every single electrical system perform faultlessly after that was amazing.
“To do that in pit lane, under so much pressure really shows what this team is all about. It was a fantastic recovery.
“I’m disappointed at the end to not get the victory, but we scored fantastic points for the championship and our main goal was to come out of here strong. We can be very proud of what everybody did.”
Courtesy ALMS © RIF