Patrón Highcroft Racing pulled off its most impressive victory of the year with a stunning come from behind win to complete an American Le Mans Series hat trick at Salt Lake City’s Miller Motorsports Park today.
The Danbury, CT-based team used outstanding pit stops, great fuel economy and impressive durability from its Michelin tires to score David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud’s third series win in a row despite suffering from a severe straight-line speed disadvantage at the Utah circuit.
The naturally aspirated #1 Honda Performance Development factory-backed ARX-01c was as much as 30mph slower in a straight line compared to some of its turbocharged rivals who were able to adjust their engine settings to compensate for the thinner air at high altitude in Utah.
With the American Le Mans Series combining the faster, but heavier LMP1 class with the slower, yet lighter and more nimble LMP2 division for 2010 into a single LMP class – the Highcroft squad has faced a tough task this season armed with an LMP2 machine which has an advantage in the corners, but a disadvantage on the straights.
That disadvantage was highlighted off the start when David Brabham was swamped from his pole position starting spot to be only fifth at the first turn.
Two early yellow flag periods were also not what the team needed but Brabham fought his way up to fourth place when the first round of pit stops took place just after the one hour mark.
Outstanding work by the Patrón Highcroft Racing crew launched Simon Pagenaud from fourth into the race lead after the stops. The team also made tire pressure adjustments at the stop to improve the pace of the car.
At the restart, Pagenaud watched the turbocharged Lola of Clint Field fly past into the lead but the talented Frenchman pounced in traffic five laps later to again put the Highcroft machine at the head of the pack.
Seven laps later however, Emanuelle Pirro took his LMP1 Drayson Lola into the lead – like Pagenaud – the multiple 24 Hours of Le Mans winner used traffic to push the LMP2 Highcroft car to second.
Pagenaud fought hard to keep the leader in sight and on lap 65 with 42 minutes remaining, Pirro pitted for fuel, handing back the race lead to the Frenchman.
The Highcroft Racing star then reeled off a succession of quick laps before pitting on lap 73. With Pagenaud needing less fuel in his stop to make it to the finish, the Highcroft crew quickly sent him back out and the #1 machine grabbed a 12.8 second lead with 26 minutes remaining.
Pagenaud was able to extend that gap in the closing laps of the race – pushing his advantage out to 19.116 seconds at the checkered flag.
This was despite a quick 720 degree spin with only a handful of laps remaining – a spin that was missed by the TV cameras, circuit commentators and even the Highcroft team. The Frenchman only revealing his double-Danny Sullivan “spin & win” during post race celebrations.
The victory pushed Patrón Highcroft Racing’s championship lead up to 11 points over the Porsche RS Spyder of Klaus Graf.
The Salt Lake success was David Brahham’s 22nd American Le Mans Series victory and the eighth for Pagenaud – his second in a row at Miller Motorsports Park. This is the first time that Patrón Highcroft Racing has scored three consecutive American Le Mans Series victories and the first time the team has triumphed in Utah. Highcroft also won at Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in rounds two and three this year.
The Patrón Highcroft squad now has its sights set on its home race in two weeks time when the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón visits Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park.
“Everybody could see on the start that I was a sitting duck – I tried to jump the start as early as possible but the turbos are so fast in a straight line that nobody noticed!
“By the time I got to the first corner, I was fifth and that put us on the back foot for a while in getting through the traffic.
“I managed to get through a few cars but it was pretty difficult to get back up to the front because we are not that fast on the straight.
“The car wasn’t 100 per cent to my liking in the first stint, but we made a tire pressure adjustment on the Michelins for Simon and I knew if we were close enough when it came to the pitstops we could leapfrog them.
“That is exactly what happened and the guys in the pits were amazing in rocketing us straight into the lead.
“That was really important because if we weren’t at the front that would have made life a lot tougher for Simon.
“Simon once he got out there did an awesome job as normal and this was just a fantastic effort from the entire Patrón Highcroft Racing team.
“It’s great to finally come to Salt Lake City and win a race because this place has been a huge challenge for us in the past.
“Coming into this weekend we knew this was going to be our toughest race of the year and that is what makes the result so satisfying.
“For the team to come here with a package that doesn’t look as strong as the opposition, we got everything together, perfect strategy and pit stops and it is very satisfying to win here against the odds.
“There is something special about this team because when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that is what happens with this team.
“It is also a great privilege to drive with Simon because he is so young, fast and committed. We are working very well together and you have to make sure the chemistry works together to maximize what you’ve got and we’ve been able to do that.”
“David did a great job in his stint and handed me the car after the stop in the lead.
“The guys on the crew did an amazing job in the pits. They really did an incredible job and those guys have such a will to win and both David and I are so proud to be a part of this team.
“Clint (Field) got me on the restart after the yellow but I was able to get back past him in traffic and once I was in the lead I had to keep an eye on Emanuelle (Pirro) who was very fast in the Lola.
“With the combined LMP1/LMP2 category, putting a former multiple Le Mans winner in an LMP1 car and he is going to be very hard to keep at bay.
“After he got past I was just thinking about the championship and keeping the Dyson and CytoSport guys behind me.
“The Michelin tires kept getting quicker and quicker and the car was very good. I had a bit of oversteer but the team managed to balance it very well.
“After Emanuelle pitted, I concentrated on putting down some good lap times and after the second stop for fuel I was able to come back out in the lead.
“I am very surprised to come away with a win here. After the last stop when I came out in the lead I thought I had a chance but that it would be tough to keep him behind me.
“After a few laps I managed to maintain the gap and kept pushing and managed to get the win.
“It’s not my win, it’s a win for the whole team. When we turned up on Friday with a revised aero package it wasn’t easy and you would find very few teams who would do such a great engineering job in only a couple of days.
“I really do love racing here as well. I made my American Le Mans Series debut here and have had amazing success at this track.
“You have be really careful here with the tires and the balance of the car but every lap around here is so much fun.”
© RIF | ALMS