Teams2010 American Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
Highcroft Racing has been around the American Le Mans Series now for the better part of a decade. In that short time, the Connecticut-based team has come to be one of the teams to be beat in Le Mans prototypes. This rapid rise to the pinnacle comes from the under-dog spirit that exudes from every member of the team. Never content, Highcroft Racing always looks for a new challenge to overcome. Its most quoted phrase aptly describes them, 'giant-killers'.
The organizers for the American Le Mans Series would provide Highcroft Racing with a challenge coming into 2010. The team didn't need to go look for one. Headed into the 2010 season, it was decided both of the prototypes categories would be joined together in American Le Mans Series races, with the exceptions being Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
If the lumping of the categories wasn't enough of a challenge for Highcroft, they went and gave themselves a few others. The team had decided it would make the trip across the Atlantic in June to take part in the 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Another challenge the team would face would come from its own equipment. Despite winning the championship in 2009 with the ARX-02a, Highcroft decided it would run a chassis that conformed to LMP2 in the Le Mans Series. Therefore, the team would basically revert back to the car it had used during the 2008 season. The car wasn't the same 01a, but the revised 01c chassis.
This move was not a step backward, but the result of looking forward. It was fully expected the American Le Mans Series would slow the LMP1 cars in order to make the LMP2 cars competitive when they were combined into the same category. Adrian Fernandez's team had raced the ARX-01b in the LMP2 category in the ALMS during 2009 and absolutely dominated. So while stepping away from the dominant ARX-02a, Highcroft Racing was very confident the 01c version would be more than up to the challenge.
Besides the change in chassis, the driver line-up was also shaken up. Scott Sharp had moved on to start his own GT team. This left Highcroft only with David Brabham confirmed by the end of 2009. Then, in early February of 2010, the rest of the car's driver line-up was announced. David Brabham, who had won the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans with Team Peugeot, would be joined by another who had driven a Peugeot 908 at the 2009 24 hour race, it was the Frenchman Simon Pagenaud. The two would be joined during the longer races by Scotsman Marino Franchitti. Franchitti had been around with Acura since its beginning foray into Le Mans endurance racing. He had been associated with the same engine program as had powered his brother Dario to a win at the Indianapolis 500 in 2007.
Having proven and successful drivers, and a proven chassis and engine, Highcroft Racing embarked for Sebring and the first test for the team for the 2010 season.
The first round of the season for Highcroft Racing and the American Le Mans Series was the 12 Hours of Sebring. Sebring was one of two races on the American Le Mans Series calendar that was still run according to Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) regulations. This meant Patron Highcroft Racing's ARX-01c would run in the LMP2 category during the race.
A new series was announced for 2010. It was announced that 2010 would be the inaugural season of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. This was an effort intended on taking the Le Mans Series racing global. There would only be three rounds of the new ILMC for 2010. They would be the 1000km of Silverstone, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Georgia and the 1000km of Zhuhai in Zhuhai, China. However, it was expected the series would expand in 2011 to include the 12 Hours of Sebring. This, and the fact Sebring was always a good test for teams in preparation to Le Mans, would lead Team Peugeot to again enter their 908 HDi FAP diesel-powered chassis in the race.
While the LMP1 field would include the exciting battle between the diesel-powered Peugeot 908s and the other petrol-powered prototype teams, the LMP2 field was, in contrast, quite barren when it came to entries. Only three teams would take part in the LMP2 category. However, the small field of three was made up of entirely different makes of chassis and engines.
Patron Highcroft Racing entered their normally-aspirated Honda Performance Development (HPD)-powered 3.4-liter V8 in the updated ARX-01c chassis. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport entered its Porsche Spyder RS chassis with its 3.4-liter MR6 normally-aspirated V8. And Dyson Racing entered its Lola B09/86 customer LMP coupe with its 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda AER MZR-R 4-cylinder engine.
Sebring wasn't just about the team with the best package. The teams had to prove to be fast, but also, reliable. In the case of 12 hours around Sebring, teams needed to be very reliable. Part of the character, the nature, of Sebring is its very bumpy concrete circuit. Every lap around the 3.7 mile circuit sees every class of car dancing on the edge of adhesion. As David Brabham stated, 'The secret to a good lap at Sebring, that's definitely to have a really good setup there, because it's very easy to get outside the window on setup at that track because of the bumps.' 'You need a fairly stable car, but you need a soft car as well because of the bumps.'
Sebring used to be an old U.S. Army Air Forces training base throughout World War II. Pilots learned to fly heavy bombers, like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, out of Sebring. It, therefore, is a tough track that, surface-wise, has undergone little change ever since the first race held on the track on New Year's Eve in 1950. As Simon Pagenaud would make clear about the character of Sebring's bumpy track, 'I don't think you should change it. It's the way it has been for years. It's a legendary track. I think it should be the way it is.'
In practice, each one of the LMP2 competitors took turns setting the fastest lap around the bumpy track. Chris Dyson had set the fastest lap for Dyson Racing with a lap of the 3.7 mile facility in one minute and fifty seconds. Klaus Graf was faster in the Porsche RS Spyder. His best time was one minute and forty-nine seconds. However, Simon Pagenaud would be the fastest of them all. His best lap would be one minute and forty-eight seconds. Pagenaud would later better his own time by another second!
Throughout the practice sessions it had participated, Highcroft Racing was either one of the fastest, or, the fastest in the LMP2 category. With that kind of performance, the team confidently looked ahead to qualifying.
Ten minutes into the qualifying session Marino Franchitti turned the fastest lap of the LMP2 category. His lap was one minute and forty-seven seconds. Franchitti's time would hold up against the pressure of the other competitors to take his second-ever pole at Sebring. Highcroft Racing had taken the pole by one tenth of a second over Muscle Milk Team Cytosport and two tenths over Dyson Racing. Overall, Highcroft Racing was in the third row of the starting grid having earned a 5th place spot. Right beside them would be Muscle Milk's Porsche Spyder.
Alex Wurz, in one of the Peugeot 908s for Team Peugeot, led the way through the first turn at the start of the race on what was a beautiful day in Florida. Simon Pagenaud started in the Highcroft Racing ARX-01c and led in the LMP2 category right from the start. Overall, Highcroft was running 5th.
Only twenty minutes into the race, trouble struck for the number 16 Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda. This was an unscheduled stop for the team and would end up that the car would be taken behind the wall because of more serious issues.
Throughout the first forty minutes of the race, Pagenaud held steady in 5th place overall and 1st in the LMP2 category. He would even run as high as 4th for a period as the leading LMP1 cars began cycling through their pitstops.
Pagenaud would come in for what was the first pitstop for Highcroft Racing. Simon was a little too excited coming in as he would be caught for speeding in the pit lane. He would come in just a little later to serve the stop and go penalty for the speeding violation. Despite the violation, Highcroft would continue running in 5th overall and 1st in LMP2.
After the first hour of the race, Pagenaud continued to run 5th overall, down one lap to Sebastien Bourdais in the leading Peugeot 908. Greg Pickett, driving the number 6 Porsche RS Spyder for Muscle Milk Team Cytosport, ran 6th, also a lap down to the overall leader. Dyson Racing, after its early troubles, was running 33rd overall and down twenty-seven laps to the overall leader.
Over the course of the next two and a half hours Highcroft Racing ran a steady, comfortable pace in the 5th overall position at the head of the LMP2 pack. Pagenaud had handed over the reigns of the car to Marino Franchitti who would pick up where Simon left off and would continue to rattle off lap-after-lap. Franchitti continued to lap Sebring safely and comfortably in front of the 2nd place Muscle Milk Porsche.
Attrition amongst the field was rather light throughout the first few hours of the race. The majority of any problems were able to be fixed and allowed cars to continue on without too much hassle or delay.
Muscle Milk Team Cytosport continued its chase after the Highcroft Racing ARX. However, they too would slow their own progress in their chase. Klaus Graf took over behind the wheel for Greg Pickett. In his haste to take up the attack, he would be caught for speeding in the pit lane and would have to serve a stop and go penalty as a result.
Three hours and forty minutes into the race, Marino brought the Highcroft ARX into the pits for a scheduled stop. The team changed all four tires, fuel and David Brabham climbed in behind the wheel for his first stint in the race.
Dyson Racing's earlier problems seemed to have been found as the car was hauling around the track and beginning to make its way back up through the field. The team had found a faulty sensor was causing a misfire in the engine. Unfortunately, it took the team almost an hour to find the source.
Highcroft Racing was having no bad fortune throughout the first four hours of the race. David Brabham continued to hold the ARX-01c up on the point in the LMP2 field and was down only three laps to the mighty Peugeot 908s with their powerful diesel engines. Drayson Racing, one of the LMP1 competitors had troubles throughout practice. During one of their pitstops the team was working to make sure the same troubles didn't happen during the race. This dropped the team out of 4th overall. This moved Highcroft up to 4th in the overall standings.
Seven hours into the running of the 12 Hours of Sebring, Highcroft Racing, with Simon Pagenaud back behind the wheel, continued to lead. The car had managed to complete 221 laps over the course of the seven hours and actually had a comfortable lead over the 2nd place LMP2 challenger Muscle Milk Team Cytosport. Traffic and issues with the car caused the Muscle Milk team to slip five laps down to Highcroft. Highcroft's pace was impressive. The car continued to run in 4th overall and was only five laps behind Marc Gene in the leading Peugeot 908. The team would continue to run in 4th overall and 1st in LMP2 until eight and a half hours into the race.
While Marino Franchitti was behind the wheel of the car smoke began to appear from underneath the car's bodywork. The team had been running a dominant race. Unfortunately, twenty minutes in the pit to work on the car's electronics would cost them the lead in LMP2. The mechanics would have to replace a large amount of wiring during the stop. However, the car was back on track and in pursuit of the LMP2 leading Muscle Milk Porsche. Franchitti's pursuit would receive another set-back as the team would be penalized for having too many people working on the car. Franchitti would have to come back into the pits for a stop, plus Marino would have to wait twenty extra seconds before he could head back out onto the track. After the troubles, Highcroft was still running 5th overall and 2nd in LMP2.
With less than two hours remaining in the race, Sascha Maassen was driving in the LMP2 leading Muscle Milk Porsche Spyder. The team had managed to turn 295 laps over the course of the ten hours and was thirteen laps behind the overall leading number 07 Peugeot. More importantly, Muscle Milk had a six lap advantage over David Brabham in the Highcroft ARX-01c.
One hour had passed, one remained. David Brabham was on a charge in hopes of being able to chase down the Muscle Milk Porsche, or at least, force the team to make an error; something like that. Over the course of the previous hour, Brabham had managed to get back one of the laps and was only five laps down to the Porsche Spyder. Brabham would pit. Marino would have the responsibility of trying to earn the victory over the course of the remaining forty-five minutes.
One minute remained in the race. Franchitti was pushing the Highcroft car, but was more concerned with finishing the race at that point. Alex Wurz, in the number 07 Peugeot 908 would take the overall win for Team Peugeot. This was Wurz first victory, in his first attempt, at an American Le Mans Series event. Klaus Graf would hold the Porsche Spyder together over the course of the remaining forty-five minutes and would score the win for Muscle Milk Team Cytosport. They would be fourteen laps behind the overall winner, but more importantly, would end four laps in front of Patron Highcroft Racing. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport would finish 4th overall, whereas the Highcroft Racing team would finish 5th. Dyson Racing would end up completing 303 laps after their early troubles and would finish the race 21st overall and 3rd in LMP2.
Though certainly pleased with their 2nd place result, Sebring was still a bitter disappointment for the team after it had dominated over half of the race over the bumps of Sebring's concrete. It served as proof that no lead was safe until the race was over. All that was left for Highcroft to do was to take their frustration and avenge for the lost victory on the streets of Long Beach one month later.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series would take place in Long Beach, California on the 17th of April. Long Beach remains a very famous venue. It has seen all types of open-wheel and sports car racing on its tight city streets.
Long Beach held its first street race in 1975 and would host Formula One the following year. It has earned the title of being the 'longest running major ‘street' race held on the North American continent.' The circuit has changed throughout the years, but much of the layout has remained the same. The current circuit is 1.96 miles in length but still features such memorable portions as the curved front stretch of Shoreline Drive that runs along the Long Beach waterfront and the famous hairpin turn which leads onto the curved front stretch.
Simon Pagenaud's return to Long Beach was as the reigning champion of the event. He had raced for de Ferran Motorsports the year before and had managed to take the victory over the team in which he was returning to the circuit with in 2010.
Due to the fact Sebring was one of the two races on the American Le Mans Series calendar that was still conducted according to ACO regulations, Long Beach would be the first actual race of the season in which there would only be one LMP category. While this would not normally bother Highcroft, there was one hold-over from the race at Sebring. Aston Martin Racing remained on the North American continent and would enter one of its Lola-Aston Martins in the race. This meant an LMP1 prototype would end up going against other prototypes that had competed in the LMP2 category just one month prior.
Although it was facing the Lola-Aston Martin of Aston Martin Racing, Highcroft Racing still had a good chance in the race. The race, for one thing, took place on the tight streets. Top-speed would not be as important as acceleration and handling. Being lighter than the Aston Martin, Highcroft could accelerate at a similar pace to that of the Aston Martin. In addition, the race wasn't all that long. The race would only be 100 minutes (one hour and forty minutes). This would not give the Aston Martin too much time to pull away, even if it could.
Thirty-six cars would be entered in the race. It was the largest field, for any series, at Long Beach in over a decade. The field, especially LMP, would be balanced in order to comply with the American Le Mans Series' single LMP classification. This aided teams like Highcroft Racing as the Aston Martin Racing team would end up having their Lola-Aston Martin saddled with a minimum weight increase. Aston Martin's Lola had to weigh in at a minimum of 900 kilograms, while those under the LMP2 classification would be 825 kilograms. In addition, the fuel capacity of the LMP2 cars was allowed to increase up to 90 liters.
Despite being hindered by extra weight, the Lola-Aston Martin of Aston Martin would end up being the fastest in the LMP category during the first round of practice. Adrian Fernandez, who had driven an HPD ARX-01b in the LMP2 category the previous season, would record the fastest lap in practice with a time of one minute and fifteen seconds around the 1.96 mile street course. Chris Dyson would end up the second-fastest in the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda. He would turn a lap over a second slower than Fernandez's best. David Brabham would have the third-fastest time in practice. His best was five tenths slower than Dyson's time.
In the second practice session; however, Simon Pagenaud would set a blistering lap time of one minute and fourteen seconds. As a result, Highcroft Racing would earn the fastest lap time of the practice session. The real test of the team's speed and handling would come a little after six in the evening with qualifying.
Chris Dyson would turn in the fastest lap of qualifying only five minutes in. His lap time was one minute and sixteen seconds. Surely, someone could go faster. Dyson would continue to lower the bar on his next lap. He would go faster by a whole second.
Though Dyson would be fast, the last five to ten minutes would see the lap times drop dramatically. Simon Pagenaud would start the chain-reaction when he would turn a lap of one minute and thirteen seconds. This was over a second and a half faster than Dyson's previous best time. With three minutes remaining, Pagenaud would lower the bar some more as he would take another four tenths off his best time. However, Adrian Fernandez would prove capable of going even lower. Following Pagenaud through, Fernandez would turn a lap of one minute, thirteen seconds and two tenths. This time would end up beating Pagenaud's best by only a tenth!
At the end of qualifying, the starting grid was set with the Aston Martin Racing on the pole. Highcroft Racing would join them on the front row starting from their 2nd place starting spot. Dyson Racing would start on the second row in 3rd. Sebring victors, Muscle Milk Team Cytosport, would start 4th, also on the second row.
Adrian Fernandez would be quoted as saying after qualifying, 'This car has a V12, one of the good things Aston Martin and Prodrive do, the people who make the road car have done a good job to design this car not to just look good but make it run well at Le Mans. And the engine is very big and very heavy which is great for 4th-5th gear corners, fast corners. Not street circuits like here. So you see you have to be good about braking and taking care of the car.' These words would come back to haunt the experienced Mexican driver during the race.
The cars pulled away to start the pace lap on what was a beautiful day at Long Beach. At twenty minutes before five in the afternoon, the race was underway. Harold Primat, Lola-Aston Martin's co-driver, led the field into turn one. Christ Dyson had managed to move his Lola-Mazda into 2nd, close behind the Lola-Aston Martin. Highcroft lost a couple of positions and was running 4th at the completion of the 1st lap.
The field was back to green flag racing after an early safety car period. After only one lap, the safety car was deployed again. Chris Dyson had hit the wall in turn one. As a result of Dyson's accident, Highcroft was able to move up to 3rd overall.
John Field, driving the Intersport Racing Lola-AER, was on the move early on. When the race went back to green, after Dyson's accident, Field took over the lead from Primat in the Lola-Aston Martin. The turbocharged AER engine allowed him to power down the front straight and take over the lead in turn one. Throughout the first third of the race, Intersport would lead the race and would pull away from the Aston Martin. Highcroft continued in 3rd overall.
David Brabham was in a very tight duel with Harold Primat in the Aston Martin. Brabham would end up making contact with the Aston Martin, sending Primat into the tires at turn 8. Brabham would end up having to serve a stop and go penalty for avoidable contact. Aston Martin received the worst penalty. The contact with Brabham and the tires caused a good deal of damage to the left rear bodywork. David would run 2nd until he had to come and serve his stop and go penalty. This allowed Aston Martin, which had slipped to 3rd overall, regain 2nd.
Fifty minutes into the race, Autocon Motorsports had taken over in 2nd place after Harold Primat slid into the run off at turn one. This mistake also allowed Highcroft to come up 3rd overall after it had slipped to 5th because of the stop and go penalty.
Another yellow flag flew for debris on the track. This brought out the safety car and a flurry of pitstop activity. David Brabham would hand the car over to Simon Pagenaud for the remainder of the race. Autocon Motorsports would have trouble during its pitstop and would be slow rejoining the field. Because of the delay in the pits, Highcroft would take over 2nd.
Clint Field, in the Intersport Racing Lola-AER was looking good at the head of the pack. Then, one hour and seventeen minutes into the race, Clint pulled into the pits for what would be a very long stop. The team had reported the car's fuel cell was leaking. This trouble dropped the team from the lead down to 5th overall. Highcroft Racing was in the lead of the race!
Twenty minutes remaining in the race, Simon Pagenaud held a four second advantage over Adrian Fernandez in the Lola-Aston Martin and an almost six second advantage over Klaus Graf in the Muscle Milk Porsche Spyder.
Five minutes remaining in the race, Adrian Fernandez would take the lead from Pagenaud going into turn one. Adrian used the power of the big V12 engine to power down the straight and gain the advantage going into the first turn.
One lap remaining, Fernandez was barely holding on to the lead over Pagenaud, who was pressing the issue very hard, hoping Adrian would make a mistake. He would. Failing to heed his own warning after qualifying, Fernandez pushed the Lola a little too far into the tight turn five. The brakes had faded somewhat and could not slow the car in time before he had gone too wide on the entry. This was the open door Pagenaud was looking for. He would squeeze by and would hold on through the remaining turns to take the victory by three tenths of a second!
Pagenaud would be quoted after the race, 'I figured if I played it smart and took second I could get as many points for finishing first (in the American Le Mans Seris). But I'm a racer and thought if I push him maybe I could get him to make a mistake and I waited for the opportunity.'
Muscle Milk Team Cytosport had a rather quiet race. Never seemingly able to challenge, the team just ran a comfortable pace to finish the race 3rd. Similar to Sebring, Dyson Racing had suffered problems early on that hurt their chances for the victory. However, the team rebounded quite well and would finish the race in 4th position.
After the first two rounds of the American Le Mans Series Championship, there was a tie at the top. Patron Highcroft Racing and Muscle Milk Team Cytosport both had earned 46 points. Freshman ALMS team, Drayson Racing, was slotted in 3rd in the championship with 38 points.
After the thrilling finish at Long Beach, Highcroft Racing, and the American Le Mans Series, remained in California. The next race took place a little over a month later, 300 miles to the north of Long Beach.
In the middle-part of May the American Le Mans Series arrived at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, California, for the third round of the ALMS Championship. Though the series had been to Laguna Seca many times before, the 2010 running would offer teams and fans something different. Instead of the more standard two hour and forty-five minute racing format used by the ALMS, the 2010 running would be a total of six hours, which meant it would be the first time a race had extended into the darkness at the track.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the world's premier circuits. It is also one of the most easily recognizable circuits as well with its famous climb up the hill and drop down through the famous corkscrew. Though visually inspiring from a spectator's point of view, the corkscrew is one demanding corner from the driver's point of view. After climbing up to the top of the hill, the turn into the corner is actually blind. Once turned in, the car and driver plunge back down the hill.
Seeing as the race would last six hours, the American Le Mans Series Monterey would serve as a good prep for those teams, like Highcroft Racing, that would be making the journey across the Atlantic to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans a little less than a month later.
After Long Beach, Aston Martin Racing departed. Therefore, those who were present at the running of the race were American Le Mans Series 'regulars'. However, it was proven throughout the first couple of rounds that there was no shortage of talent amongst the LMP field. In all, thirty-five cars would be entered for the race.
Despite being in California, the weather was rather chilly. Though sunny during practice, the temperature was less than 60 degrees. This meant difficulty for teams as they tried to induce heat into their tires to gain optimum grip.
As though oblivious to the fact, Simon Pagenaud would go out and set a lap time of one minute and twenty-three seconds around the 3.7 mile road course. His time would later be eclipsed by five-time Le Mans champ Emanuele Pirro, driving for Drayson Racing. However, neither of these early times would be close to what was turned just a little later on. Guy Smith, for Dyson Racing would tick-off a lap of one minute and fourteen seconds. Simon followed closely with a lap only four tenths slower. Klaus Graf, of Muscle Milk, would set a best lap only eight tenths slower than Smith's best. Throughout the remaining practice sessions Highcroft Racing would remain amongst the top-three in lap times within the LMP field.
During the twenty minute qualifying session, David Brabham was on the pace quickly. In less than five minutes he was lapping the course with times of one minute and fourteen seconds. He would continue to push the time even lower. Within ten minutes he had the times down into the thirteen second range. A couple of laps later, he had almost made it down to a lap into the one minute and twelve seconds range. However, with only a couple of minutes left, Guy Smith would take the Dyson Racing Team Lola-Mazda into the one minute and twelve second range. At the end of qualifying, Guy Smith had earned the pole for Dyson Racing with a time of one minute and twelve seconds. David Brabham was second with a lap time of one minute and thirteen seconds even. Klaus Graf put Muscle Milk on the grid in 3rd with a time eight tenths of a second slower than Brabham's best.
Although Highcroft Racing had earned a great starting spot for the race, it would be taken away from them prior to the start. It was found one of the team's drivers failed to take part in one of the official practice sessions on Friday. Because of the infraction, Highcroft was sent to the very back of the grid for the start of the race. This meant the team would not only have to start from the back, but would also have to fight to make its way through slower GT traffic throughout the very early stages.
The cars rolled away to prepare for the start of the race. While sunny, it was anything but warm. While the drivers would stay warm in their cars, their crews had to deal with temperatures only in the lower 50s.
As the cars headed off on the first lap of race, Dyson Racing held the lead. Clint Field, with his turbocharged AER engine was on a charge. Lord Paul Drayson would spin in his Lola at turn five. On the climb up to the corkscrew for the first time, Field would ride his powerful AER up to the lead. Meanwhile, Highcroft Racing, with Simon Pagenaud at the wheel, was quickly making its way up from last on the grid.
In just three laps into Pagenaud had managed guide the HPD ARX-01c up to 7th overall! Clint Field continued in the lead in front of Chris Dyson. Pagenaud was putting together an incredible display behind the wheel of the Highcroft Racing ARX. After getting up to 7th overall in just 3 laps, he would only need one more before he would be up to 4th overall!
Pagenaud would remain in 4th overall throughout the first fifty minutes of the race. He was closely following Christ Dyson as they came upon a GTC competitor. Dyson hugged the GTC Porsche closely in attempts to prevent Pagenaud from getting by. Amazingly, Simon would go down to the inside of the Porsche and would streak up into 3rd. In only five more minutes it would become 2nd overall.
Coming out of the corkscrew, the Lola of Clint Field was spewing smoke out of the rear of the car. Clint would head into the pits and would go directly to the paddock. This handed the lead of the race to Klaus Graf in the Muscle Milk Porsche, and, in less than an hour of running, Highcroft Racing had made it all the way up to 2nd place overall.
One hour and seventeen minutes into the race, Klaus Graf pitted from the lead. He would take on tires and fuel, but by the time he re-emerged on the track, he would lose the lead. Highcroft Racing was in the lead after starting dead-last on the grid.
Throughout the remainder of the first two hours of the race, Highcroft Racing held onto the lead by about seven seconds over Klaus Graf, and had a lap in hand over Andy Meyrick for Dyson Racing.
A little later, during a pitstop under yellow flag conditions, Dyson Racing had decided to take on only fuel and would come out as the overall leader of the race. Highcroft Racing ran 2nd overall.
Two and a half hours into the race, the race came down to a contest between Highcroft and Dyson. Memo Gidley, in the Muscle Milk Porsche Spyder spun out on the course. After pitting for new tires and returning to the track, the car would come to a halt near turn three. Gidley couldn't get the car to shift. The car would be taken back to the paddock for repairs. In addition to Muscle Milk's problems, Drayson Racing's race would take a hard hit. The car was slow and would end up being towed up to the top of the corkscrew.
Just prior to the three hour mark, Andy Meyrick would run wide out of the final turn. In an attempt to block Brabham in the ARX, Meyrick would pinch down, but would end up hitting Johnny Mowlem and sending him into the inside wall. With all of the contact, Brabham would end up retaking the lead for Highcroft.
After the incident, and the subsequent repairs to the front splitter on the Dyson Racing Lola, Brabham had a lap lead over Meyrick and a seven lap lead over Sascha Maassen in the Muscle Milk Porsche. However, as Sebring had showed, no lead was big enough, especially when the race was only half over.
Two hours remaining in the race, David Brabham would pit and would hand over the car to Marino Franchitti for the remainder of the race. Still with the advantage over the Dyson Racing Lola, Franchitti would retain the lead when he would come back on the track.
One hour and fifteen minutes remained in the race. Guy Smith had taken over for Chris Dyson in the Dyson Racing Lola and was turning fast lap after fast lap. Then, going into turn two, Smith would pass Franchitti for the overall lead. However, Franchitti would not let him escape. Marino would keep the pressure on Smith.
With less than an hour remaining, Dyson Racing would pit. Marino would take the lead back. Marino, while trying to get past GT traffic would drop a couple of wheels off the track but would manage to keep going and keep the lead. Then, it was Franchitti's turn to pit. The team elected for fuel only and would hold on to its lead.
With only twenty minutes remaining the battle was over. However, it wasn't Highcroft that suffered. Guy Smith was parked along the side of the road with no electrical power. Therefore, all Marino had to do was hold on and the victory would be Highcroft's. He would do just that.
Though twelve minutes still remained, the checkered flag was shown to Franchitti as he had a seven lap advantage over the 2nd place Muscle Milk Porsche. This made it two-straight for Highcroft. The final step on the podium would go to LMPC competitor Level 5 Motorsports. Marino's victory with David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud served as a good warm-up for his brother Dario who would end up dominating and scoring the victory at the Indianapolis 500 at the end of the month.
With the victory Highcroft would earn a 4 point advantage over Muscle Milk Team Cytosport in the championship standings. Perhaps more importantly, Highcroft Racing earned an important confidence before it prepared to depart for what was perhaps the most important race of the 2010 season.
At the end of May, Highcroft Racing departed the United States for Le Mans, France. After being the most dominant entry in the American Le Mans Series, Highcroft Racing was going to be making its debut against the best the rest of the world had to offer at one of the world's most famous races.
Though combined back in the States, Highcroft Racing would again take part in the LMP2 class at the 24 hour endurance classic. This appeared to promise great things for Highcroft since Strakka Racing, which ran Adrian Fernandez's HPD ARX-01c chassis of 2009, had proven to be a dominant force in LMP2 throughout the first two round of the Le Mans Series championship.
To tackle the legendary 8.46 mile Circuit de la Sarthe, Highcroft brought David Brabham, one of the reigning overall champions from Peugeot's victory the year before, and Marino Franchitti. Franchitti had also driven at Le Mans in 2009, but, for Lord Paul Drayson in his Aston Martin GT1 effort. Unlike the first two rounds of racing, Simon Pagenaud would not be with Highcroft's freshman effort. Simon would end up receiving an invitation by Peugeot Sport Total to race one of its three diesel-powered 908s in the race. Therefore, Highcroft would call in a specialist. The team would bring with them three-time Le Mans winner Marco Werner.
Facing a long list of LMP1 cars, the best of he LMP2 runners would find themselves fighting for positions only inside the top-twenty. The exception seemed to be Strakka Racing and Highcroft Racing, both utilizing HPD engines and the ARX-01c chassis. Routinely, Highcroft Racing ran lap times around the top-fifteen. Down the long Mulsanne and the stretch between Mulsanne Corner and Indianapolis, Highcroft's car was touching speeds in excess of 185 mph. David Brabham would touch almost 190 mph during one of the practice sessions.
In qualifying, the real speed of the HPD ARX Highcroft chassis came to be evident. On the first day of qualifying, Strakka Racing would turn in the fastest lap amongst the LMP2 competitors. Their HPD-ARX would cruise the 8.46 miles of public and private roads in three minutes and thirty-six seconds. Highcroft Racing would be second-fastest with a lap of three minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Then, on the second day, the times dropped even more. Strakka Racing was still the fastest amongst LMP2. They would turn a lap of three minutes and thirty-three seconds. Highcroft would end up 2nd in LMP2 having recorded a lap of three minutes and thirty-four seconds. Highcroft had even managed to go faster than a couple LMP1 cars. As a result of their quick time, Highcroft Racing would start its first 24 Hours of Le Mans from 17th on the grid and 2nd in LMP2. Strakka was on the pole and in 15th on the overall grid. RML was the third-fastest LMP2 team. Their best lap was over five seconds slower than Highcroft's best time. RML would start 20th overall.
Highcroft knew it had the speed in hand over the rest of the LMP2 field, with the exception of Strakka Racing. Therefore, the team merely needed to focus on settling into a comfortable groove, and staying there throughout the entirety of the race. The big thing was no mistakes, or, car troubles. They had the pace to do something special.
The race began with Peugeot 908s up front accelerating under the waving French flag. While the Peugeots accelerated into the distance, the Highcroft Racing ARX machine was just going through the Ford chicane. The car was tip-toed through by Brabham and set off on its Le Mans assault.
After the 1st lap of the race, the number 26 Highcroft entry was running behind its Strakka cousin in 19th overall. Taking it easy right from the very start, there was a one and a half second gap between the two cars just after the 1st lap.
While getting into a comfortable groove, pace-wise, the race handed the team a hold-your-breath moment. Following Nigel Mansell, in his Beechdean-Mansell Zytek, and Strakka Racing, Highcroft was running a nice pace when Mansell's car broke sending him into the Armco barrier along the side of the road. Debris was thrown onto the track. Thankfully for Highcroft, their car was just far enough back that Brabham was able to guide the car through the debris and continue on his way.
Strakka was pushing all the way. After the first hour of the race, their car was running 15th overall. Highcroft, no doubt due to their strategy and lacking experience-level, took the pace a little easier. However, they had the speed to remain 2nd in LMP2 and were running 18th overall.
After the two hour mark, Highcroft Racing continued to run 18th overall and were back to only four seconds behind Strakka. By this time in the race, Highcroft was two laps down to the overall leading Peugeots. RML was running 3rd in LMP2, but were over a minute behind.
Simon Pagenaud had decided to take advantage of the opportunity presented him and would drive the number 3 Peugeot Sport 908. This would prove to be a bad choice for the Frenchman. Two hours and twenty-eight minutes into the race, the number 3 Peugeot 908 was out. This failure promoted his American Le Mans Series team, Highcroft Racing. Highcroft, at the end of three hours was running 16th overall, four laps down to the other two leading Peugeots. They ran close to a minute behind Strakka and two and a half minutes up on RML.
Throughout the next two hours, the team ran right around 15th overall and continued to chase Strakka for the lead in LMP2. Quifel ASM took over the chase of Highcroft in 3rd place. However, they continued to be about a lap behind.
At midnight, Highcroft was running strong in 14th overall, still in 2nd place in LMP2. They were catching the Strakka Racing team as they were only about thirty seconds behind. They also were comfortably in front of OAK Racing in 3rd place in LMP2. OAK Racing's number 35 was in 15th overall, but three laps down to Highcroft. Midway through the race (three in the morning), Highcroft was 13th overall and three laps behind Strakka. Delays had cost the team. Punctured tires had made for some slow laps, which allowed Strakka to pull away, and other competitors to catch up a bit. But they continued to run two laps up on OAK Racing in 3rd in LMP2.
Into the morning hours of the race, Highcroft continued to look strong, and on target for a podium finish in what was its first-ever Le Mans effort. However, just as at Sebring, the race wasn't over yet, and it would still throw the team some bitter pills before the end.
With one hour remaining in the race, Highcroft Racing had slipped all the way down to 25th overall. Cooling problems had come to plague the team over the last few hours and they could do little to truly rectify the situation. The team would work hard and the car would get back out on track, but with practically no hope of securing a podium finish, which, just a few hours earlier, had looked like a good possibility.
As the clock struck three in the afternoon, Audi Sport had scored an amazing one-two-three in the overall standings. Strakka Racing would finish 1st in LMP2 and 5th overall. OAK Racing would finish 2nd, six laps behind Strakka. RML would finish another three laps behind OAK in 8th overall and 3rd in class. Highcroft was still running at the end of the race but all the way down in 25th overall. The team had completed 296 laps and finished 9th in LMP2.
Le Mans would prove to be a bitter disappointment for the team, given the pace the car had been running throughout the majority of the race. However, the team took a lot of positives away from the race. Though a bit frustrated with its Le Mans experience, Highcroft had to switch gears and start thinking about the American Le Mans Series Championship and the next round to take place one month later in Toole, Utah.
Following the elation and disappointment of the first Le Mans experience for Highcroft Racing, the team set its sights on the other important event on its 2010 schedule, the American Le Mans Series championship. The fourth round of the championship took place on the 10th of July back out in the western-part of the United States.
Highcroft travelled to Toole, Utah to prepare for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix. Initially the concept behind the Motorsports Park was to build something of a personal playground for Miller. Soon, interest in a larger project swelled. What resulted was a 23 turn 4.48 mile road course that opened in 2006.
Miller Motorsports Park first hosted an American Le Mans Series race in its inaugural year of existence. The track presents a challenge to many teams and would offer a unique experience in the LMP field in 2010.
At over 4,000 feet high, the air density at the track is thinner than many of the other tracks in which the teams compete. This lower air density actually would play into the hands of the small, turbocharged engines like that of Intersport's AER engine.
If Le Mans was frustrating for Highcroft, it was absolutely deplorable for Pagenaud when his Peugeot lasted only two and a half hours. He would take his frustrations out during qualifying.
Despite sucking in the less dense air, the HPD 3.4-liter V8 engine would power Simon to the fastest lap of all competitors in qualifying. Simon's best lap around the 4.48 mile circuit was one minute and thirty-four seconds. Jonny Cocker, driving a Lola B09/60 with a 5.5-liter Judd V10 would also end up being faster than the turbocharged cars and would start the race 2nd. Cocker's best lap was a half a second slower. Chris Dyson, with his turbocharged 4-cylinder Mazda engine, would power his way to 3rd on the starting grid. The top-five qualifiers would end up being separated by only a mere second.
Another sunny day awaited the competitors at the start of the race. At the start of the race, Jon Field and the other turbocharged cars were absolutely unstoppable. Highcroft would get passed as if standing still going down the long front straight. Before even getting to turn one, David Brabham had slipped down to 5th overall, and could do very little about it. Within the course of one lap, Field would go from starting 5th on the grid to 1st.
Brabham focused on settling into a comfortable, but competitive pace. He knew, full well, that it wasn't about how fast one was at the start. The important thing was being able to finish.
Brabham's experience would come into play in a big way for Highcroft. Using the low-downforce setting utilized at Le Mans, David was able to come back and challenge Autocon. This allowed Brabham to come back up to 4th overall. However, Brabham was still being chased by Autocon with its turbocharged car. And, twenty-five minutes into the race, the Autocon Lola would end up getting back by into 4th overall. The two would battle over the next few minutes. Finally, thirty minutes into the two hour and forty-five minute race, Brabham would get back by into 4th and would look to move forward.
The team would spend a few laps in the lead during a safety car period, but, would again be passed by Intersport Motorsports and would slip down to 2nd in the overall standings. The tires on the heavier P1 turbocharged appeared to go away faster than on the lighter P2 LMP machines like the Highcroft Racing ARX.
Despite its performance deficiencies, Highcroft's car handled much better, especially in clean air. Pagenaud would use this to his advantage. Two hours into the race, Pagenaud was stalking the Drayson Racing Lola from 2nd place overall. Intersport, and many of the other turbocharged cars, began to really suffer from tire wear and troubles with traffic. This allowed Pagenaud to be up near the front in clean air, which David Brabham mentioned worked best for the car.
Throughout the remaining half hour of the race, the battle came down to only two cars, the Highcroft Racing ARX and Drayson Racing's Lola-Judd. Running out front, Simon let the car loose and it took off. The ARX certainly offered Pagenaud better handling than what Pirro could muster in the Drayson Racing Lola.
Inside of twenty minutes remaining, Pagenaud was controlling the race. If Pirro closed down, Simon would be able to stretch the lead back up to a comfortable gap. With eight minutes remaining Simon had a twenty second advantage over Pirro.
Forty-five minutes remained in the race when great pitwork and smooth driving enabled Simon Pagenaud to take the lead and open up a good size gap over the Drayson Racing Lola. He would control the race throughout those forty-five minutes, never putting a foot wrong and would take the victory by nineteen seconds over Pirro in the Drayson Racing entry. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport finished a minute and a half further back, but on the podium once again.
The victory was the third for Highcroft on the season and a bit of retribution for the frustrating Le Mans effort. Clearly focused on the championship after having returned to the States, Highcroft started out the run-up to the end in perfect style. The victory gave the team 20 more points toward the championship. The team had earned 90 points on the season to that point and had an eleven point advantage over Muscle Milk Team Cytosport.
Using the Utah Grand Prix to avenge for the bitter disappointment at Le Mans, Highcroft arrived at Lime Rock, in Lakeville, Connecticut, with an eleven point advantage in the American Le Mans Series Championship.
At only 1.53 miles in length, and featuring no grandstands and free parking, Lime Rock race days have more of a feel like that of an evening concert in the park. But the woods around Lakeville were echoing with the numerous sounds of American Le Mans Series racing on the 24th of July. As is the norm with many of the American Le Mans Series events, the race was two hours and forty-five minutes in length.
In practice, the tricky little track was made more so by rain falling on the track. It would continue falling all the way into the afternoon practice sessions. The grass was like a marsh. Good times were not that easy to come by. Despite the rain, the Highcroft Racing team would be among the three-fastest in LMP.
In qualifying, the rain finally stopped, but the track was far from dry. This would not hinder David Brabham from going out, and within just a couple of minutes, turn in a lap of one minute and two tenths. David would later turn a lap in just fifty-nine seconds and would continue to push the time lower. Just two minutes remained in the qualifying session when Brabham posted a lap of fifty-eight seconds and one tenth. With this time, Brabham would earn the pole for Highcroft. Klaus Graf would be 2nd on the grid after a best lap time six tenths slower than David's time. Guy Smith put Dyson Racing on the grid 3rd with a lap of fifty-nine seconds and nine tenths.
Required to run with the low downforce setting after switching to it as it headed to Le Mans, Highcroft were making tactical guesses in the rain during practice, and then as the rain ceased right at the start of qualifying. The team would have their handful during the race. The advantage was pointing toward Muscle Milk as they were running with more downforce on the tight and technically challenging circuit.
Heading to the start of the race, the track was dry. The grass on either side of it was still like a marshland. In addition, radar was showing showers and thunderstorms moving in from upstate New York. All of these things the teams had to deal with before and during the race.
Highcroft hadn't too many opportunities to run at the track with heavy fuel tanks. It would show going down the front stretch and into the 'big bend', turn one. The Muscle Milk Porsche and the turbocharged Mazda-Lola of Dyson Racing would power by Pagenaud. Jonny Cocker and Jon Field would also come on strong all before heading into turn one. Simon went from starting the race on the pole to running 4th through the first turn of the race.
Early leader, Chris Dyson, would be slow entering the pits. The crew would go to work trying to find the trouble. The rear bodywork would come off and the team would slip down the order. Intersport Racing was running 2nd when Jon Field made contact with a GTC Porsche. Field would continue but his pace would be slowed as a result of the contact. Twelve minutes into the race, Pagenaud would go from being totally kicked to the rear of the LMP field to running 2nd overall.
Then, twenty-five minutes into the race, Highcroft would gain the lead after Cocker would slow up and come to a rest in the Drayson Racing Lola. Though he would get it going again, he would slip down to 4th overall.
From the time of inheriting the lead from Cocker, Highcroft Racing would dominate the overall lead of the race. The team would hold onto the lead for an hour until it needed to come in for tires, fuel and the mandatory driver change. While switching out drivers, Klaus Graf would go into the lead in the number 6 Muscle Milk Porsche Spyder. Highcroft's pit stop, on the very short track, would cause the team to fall down a lap.
With an hour left, David Brabham would do more than his fair share to erase the deficit and give the team the chance for its fourth win on the season. Brabham would record a fast lap of the race trying to eat into the advantage Graf had over him. Brabham would continue to set fast lap of the race until some rain started to fall on the track.
Due to the traffic and the rain, Graf only had a two second advantage over Brabham with fifteen minutes remaining. Three minutes later, Brabham tried to make his move going down the front stretch. Amidst slower traffic, Graf would squeeze Brabham so far to the inside that part of the HPD ARX would go skipping through the marsh like an airboat. For Graf's action, Muscle Milk would receive a stop and go penalty. This seemed to hand the lead and, possibly, the victory to Highcroft for the fourth time on the season. However, the team's hopes would deflate with its car's deflating right-rear tire.
Klaus Graf would end up getting off easier for his questionable move and would go on to take the victory by twenty-seven seconds over Brabham in the HPD ARX. Despite not running at the end, Green Earth Team Gunnar, an LMPC competitor, would finish the race 3rd overall.
The victory by Muscle Milk would swing four points back in their favor in the championship after five rounds. The tally was 107 to 100, with Highcroft still holding onto the lead in the championship. After heading all the way east after coming from Utah, the series would head back west again, but only as far as Ohio, as the American Le Mans Series would take part on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge on the 7th of August.
Mid-Ohio is one of the more popular venues for the teams. Its extensive remodeling and refurbishment has led to more exciting racing and some really close finishes. In 2006, the closest finish of the track's history was recorded. The margin of victory was only four tenths of a second. At 2.25 miles in length, Mid-Ohio features some sweeping esses, the famous high-speed left-hand turn one and a rather long backstretch where cars are able to reach speeds up to, and in excess, of 180 mph.
As they had since the return from Le Mans, David Brabham and Simon Pagenuad were paired together to drive the Highcroft HPD ARX-01c. They would be just one of seven entries in the LMP category, one of the largest LMP line-ups throughout the entire season, with the exception of the longer races like Sebring and Le Mans.
The competition amongst the LMP field was tough. As a result, Highcroft Racing would not be amongst the top-three during the first round of practice. Pushing hard to be amongst the fastest, Simon Pagenaud would go off at the end of the back stretch and would, somehow, make it through 'China Beach'. In spite of the off, Highcroft would be amongst the three fastest in LMP in the later practice session as well, no doubt helped by the fact Intersport had to change their engine and would not take part in the session.
In qualifying, Highcroft would be nowhere near the pace of the two Lola coupes of Drayson Racing and Dyson Racing. Jonny Cocker would set the fastest time and would continue to lower the bar each and every lap. As a result, Cocker would set the best time around the 2.25 mile road track with a time of one minute and ten seconds. He would end up being joined on the front row by the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda coupe after Chris Dyson turned in a time of one minute, ten seconds and nine tenths. Therefore, Dyson was almost a second slower than Cocker. Simon Pagenaud would end up starting the race from the second row in 3rd overall after he set a qualifying lap time of one minute and eleven seconds. His time was four tenths slower than Dyson's. With Drayson and Dyson on the front row with their Lola coupes, this would be the first time since 1993 two closed-cockpit cars would start from the front row.
Greg Pickett, of Muscle Milk Team Cytosport had suffered an accident during practice. The car buried itself hard, and on its roof, into the tire barrier. As a result of the accident, Muscle Milk would not take part in the race, and, Greg Pickett would miss the rest of the season due to rib and back injuries.
At the time of the start of the race, the air temperature was in the low 80s, but the track temperature was almost 110 degrees. After a failed start, the race would finally see the green flag one lap later.
In spite of starting on the pole, Drayson Racing would get kicked back to 4th overall after the first lap. David Brabham remained in 3rd. Guy Smith sat in 2nd for Dyson Racing. However, Clint Field would come from 4th to lead the 1st lap of the race in the turbocharged AER-Lola.
After getting shuffled back on the 1st lap, things would get worse for Lord Paul Drayson in his Lola-Judd. On the 2nd lap, Drayson would go off at turn two, but would continue. Brabham settled into a good pace chasing Smith and Field from his 3rd place running position.
The order would remain the same throughout the first forty-five minutes of the race's running. Then, Paul Drayson would have another off, but with a GTC car apparently involved. Drayson's Lola would come to a stop and would have a hard time getting going again. At the same time, an LMPC car would stop coming out of the 'keyhole'. This brought out the first safety car period. During this yellow Brabham would come in for a pitstop and a driver change. Simon Pagenaud would take over behind the wheel. Upon rejoining on the track, Pagenaud would be sitting 2nd overall.
As the race went back to green flag racing, Pagenaud continued to chase Clint Field in the turbocharged Intersport Lola. He would give chase over the following 15 laps. Then, with about an hour and a half remaining in the race, Dyson Racing would end up getting past Highcroft for 2nd overall.
The top-three overall would pit just before another safety car period. Intersport's entry had come in just prior to the yellow flag and would end up dropping down to 3rd overall. When the pits opened, Simon Pagenaud came in for his stop. During the stop, Simon would drop to 2nd overall. Dyson Racing was in the lead.
The green flag would again fly with only forty-five minutes remaining in the race. Intersport had made another unscheduled stop during the yellow and would fall further down the order. This meant the race would come down to just two cars: Dyson Racing's Lola-Mazda and Highcroft Racing's HPD-ARX-01c. Simon Pagenaud was in a desperate hunt of Chris Dyson.
Pagenaud continued to try everything possible against the powerful little turbocharged Mazda-powered Dyson Lola. However, with just fifteen minutes remaining, Dyson had a lead of three seconds over Pagenaud. The race would tighten after a late safety car due to two GT cars spinning off the track.
Following the safety car, Pagenaud was tucked up right behind Dyson's rear wing. The green flag waved and the race resumed in earnest. Dyson led by only eight tenths, but would turn in the fastest lap of the race under Pagenaud's pressure. Simon's best hopes seemed to be a failure with the Dyson Racing Lola. This wasn't a vain hope after the troubles Dyson had experienced throughout the season. It would be a vain hope this day.
Headed around on the final lap of the race, Chris Dyson had a lead of only three tenths over Simon. Dyson would not put a foot wrong under the pressure and would go on to take the victory by a half a second over Simon Pagenaud. As with the race at Lime Rock, an LMPC competitor would finish on the overall podium. Level 5 Motorsports would end up four laps down, but 3rd on the podium.
The unfortunate accident to Pickett in the Muscle Milk Porsche would be a fortunate happening for Highcroft Racing. The 2nd place at Mid-Ohio netted the team 16 points toward the American Le Mans Series Championship, whereas Muscle Milk left Mid-Ohio with none. Patron Highcroft Racing left with 123 points, while Muscle Milk remained stuck with 100 points. In fact, with the victory, Dyson Racing began to pressure Muscle Milk's position in the championship standings.
After the exciting finish at Mid-Ohio, the season departed for another track notorious for close finishes. The American Le Mans Series was on its way further west to Wisconsin and Elkhart Lake.
Highcroft Racing, and the American Le Mans Series, arrived at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in the later-part of August for the seventh round of the championship. The race was the two hour and forty-five minute American Le Mans Series powered by eStar race.
Road America is one of the more picturesque settings in all of North America. The 4.04 mile road course runs over the tops of small hills and down through valleys. The front stretch enables cars to reach speeds close to 200 mph. The course's back stretch features the famous 'kink' in its run down to Canada Corner. Situated on over 600 acres, Road America can easily accommodate 150,000 spectators. With three long straights where top-end speed is on constant display, it is another favorite with teams and spectators.
While a favorite for many teams, the long straights of Road America would not be a favorite for Highcroft Racing. Going against the turbocharged prototypes, Highcroft would be sure to be slower down the straights. The slight remaining differences between the P1 and P2 classes would become evident.
Sure enough, in practice, Jonny Cocker, though not powered by a turbocharged engine, would turn the fastest lap. The large Judd V10 had more than enough power to drive the Lola down the straights. He would be followed by the closed-cockpit Lola of Dyson Racing, which gets its power from a turbocharged Mazda engine. Pagenaud would be third-fastest, but over two seconds slower than Cocker.
In qualifying, the gap between Highcroft and the other LMP challengers would grow. David Brabham would qualify the car and would end up turning a best lap for the HPD ARX-01c with a lap of one minute and fifty-two seconds. However, this time would not be anywhere near the top-three times. Utilizing the powerful Judd V10, Jonny Cocker would record the fastest lap of all LMP competitors with a time of one minute and forty-nine seconds. Guy Smith would put the Dyson Racing Lola on the front row two races in a row after recording a time of one minute and fifty seconds. Klaus Graf, in the Muscle Milk Porsche, would turn in the 3rd fastest time with a lap of one minute and fifty-one seconds. In spite of turning the best lap time for the team, Brabham's best time in qualifying would only be good enough for the team to start on the third row in 5th position.
The race began in absolutely beautiful conditions and things looked absolutely beautiful early on for Autocon Motorsports. After starting the race from 4th on the grid, Johnny Mowlem was able to take the lead coming out of the first turn. Simon Pagenaud would also make an incredible start for Highcroft Racing as he would be able to come from 5th to slide into 2nd behind Mowlem. Chris Dyson ran 3rd.
Throughout two early safety car periods, Pagenaud continued to run 2nd overall. Mowlem continued to lead. Dyson followed behind Simon in 3rd place for Dyson Racing. A battle would ensue between the Highcroft and Dyson cars once again. Chris Dyson had managed to hold off a charging Simon Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio. Well, he would end up getting the better of Simon again. Forty-two minutes into the race Dyson would get by Simon at turn three for 2nd overall.
Simon was sitting there behind Dyson, stalking. He was looking for the best opportunity to get by and the slower GT cars would give him just that. All three of the leading LMP, and overall, leaders would be held up by slower GT traffic. Pagenaud would make a daring move and would get by Dyson for 2nd place overall.
Pagenaud's pressure from behind was like a dagger through the heart of Mowlem's Autocon Lola B06-AER. Mowlem would end up making an unscheduled stop as the result of being down on power coming through the final couple of corners and up the front straight. He would notify the team the car was stuck in fifth gear. The troubles would end up dropping the team out of the lead and all the back to 29th overall. Pagenaud was now in the lead.
Pagenaud was far from safe having taken over the lead. He was being stalked himself by two faster cars, including its closest championship contender, Muscle Milk Team Cytosport.
When the safety car was deployed an hour and twenty minutes into the race, Highcroft Racing made what would be its last pitstop for the rest of the race. David Brabham took over behind the wheel of the car with four new tires and a full load of fuel. The team would return to the track running 3rd overall chasing Dyson Racing and Muscle Milk Team Cytosport.
Drayson Racing; however, would run a different strategy. Johnny Cocker would push the Lola-Judd hard. He would take the lead from Klaus Graf and would set sail into the distance trying to open up a large gap. He would manage to pull out a lead over the rest of the LMP competitors of about thirty seconds when he would come back in to the pits for fuel. Running on the fuel and tires he had received just past the first hour of running, Klaud Graf would go back into the lead with the intention being to run as lean as possible and make it to the finish.
Cocker's pitstop would take a bit more time than it should have and would drop him to 4th overall. Guy Smith ran 3rd in the Dyson Racing Lola. David Brabham ran 2nd. And Klaus Graf ran 1st for Muscle Milk.
Both Graf and Brabham were nursing their cars to the finish being quite light on fuel. Cocker, on the other hand, had more than enough fuel and could push as hard as he dared. This set up one of the most dramatic four laps in American Le Mans Series history.
Graf was out front by five seconds, but the three following were lapping two seconds a lap faster and were coming on fast, including David Brabham who was given the go-ahead to richen the mixture. But he would have nothing for Johnny Cocker. Patron Highcroft Racing