Teams2010 American Le Mans Series : Part 2 By Jeremy McMullen
With only five minutes remaining in the race, Cocker would push hard from 4th and would end up getting by Guy Smith going into turn five after getting a good run down the Moraine Sweep. One lap later, Cocker would move past Brabham for 2nd into turn five, just as he had Smith the lap prior. Once by David, Cocker set sail after Graf, who was still trying to conserve fuel.
Headed up the hill to take the white flag, Klaus Graf was in the lead by a little more than five seconds over Jonny Cocker. However, Cocker was cutting into the margin hand-over-fist. It was time to throw all caution to the wind. Cocker would and would end up getting by Graf going into Canada Corner. Graf was having difficulty picking up fuel from the fuel tank.
Cocker would tip-toe through turn fourteen and would put the power down to climb the hill and take Drayson Racing's first-ever LMP victory. Graf's fuel troubles even made his 2nd place come under doubt. Brabham still remained in 3rd and would push through the final corner, but would be too far behind to catch Graf before the line. Graf would cross the line 2nd. Brabham could not catch Graf and would end up backing off to finish four seconds behind in 3rd.
In spite of being out-horsepowered all throughout practice, qualifying and the race, Highcroft Racing would manage to put together a good final result in order to take away perhaps the most points possible for the team compared to the pace of the competition. Because of its 3rd place finish on the LMP podium, Highcroft Racing would leave Road America with 13 points. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport would only manage to gain three points on Highcroft. As the team packed up to leave Wisconsin, it would leave with 136 points. Their advantage over Muscle Milk stood at 20.
Only two more rounds separated Highcroft Racing from repeating as American Le Mans Series LMP champions. The next round, though not taking place in the United States, would be important for Highcroft's hopes of retaining the American Le Mans Series championship.
Highcroft Racing had to pack up quickly as it needed to head north of the border into Canada for the eighth round of the American Le Mans Series championship. The team's, and the series', destination was Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada and the Grand Prix of Mosport, held at Mosport International Raceway.
Built in the late 1950s, Mosport was the second purpose-built road course in Canada. Originally just farmland, Mosport would come to host just about every form of racing including Formula One. Famous drivers like Stirling Moss, Gilles Villeneuve, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren and even Richard Petty have all raced on the track at some point in its history.
Alan Bunting's original design remains. The 2.54 mile road course rises and falls with the land and continues to offer cars and drivers courageously-fast sweeping turns. It even still retains the double-right 'Moss Corner'. The corner was so named after Stirling Moss' recommendation of changing the single-radius hairpin that was in Bunting's original design.
In the shadow of such racing history, Highcroft Racing arrived at Mosport, at the end of August, looking to hold on, increase if possible, its points lead in the American Le Mans Series overall and LMP championship. The race would be a special race for the team as it would be David Brabham's 100th career start in American Le Mans Series racing.
Throughout practice, Highcroft Racing remained one of the fastest teams amongst the LMP field, despite the fact Mosport is a fast circuit and better suited to turbocharged engines.
In qualifying, Simon Pagenaud was given the responsibility of putting the ARX-01c in the field in the best position possible. Qualifying would start at 4:50 in the afternoon, and within ten minutes, Pagenaud was setting fast lap times. Unfortunately, Simon wasn't as fast as the Muscle Milk Porsche driven by Klaus Graf. Graf would earn the pole after lapping the circuit in one minute and six seconds. Chris Dyson would rely on his turbocharged Mazda engine to power his team to a 2nd place starting spot. Pagenaud would turn in a lap of one minute and seven seconds. This time was only three tenths of a seconds slower than Graf, and therefore, good enough to start the race 3rd.
In spite of being third-fastest in qualifying, Highcroft would receive some help heading into the start of the race. Chris Dyson would end up starting the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda from the pit lane after he changed tires.
The race began a little after three in the afternoon. David Brabham took advantage of Dyson's misfortune and would follow Romain Dumas through the first turn. However, Brabham would soon need a lot more help as the Australian fell almost eleven seconds behind Dumas after only 7 laps.
Thirty minutes into the race, David was still running 2nd overall, but was under a lot of pressure from Jon Field in the Intersport Lola-AER. Then, using his turbocharged AER engine, Field would get by Brabham heading onto the very short front stretch. Ten minutes later, Brabham got shuffled back even more when he would get passed by Chris Dyson, who had made his way all the way up through the field from the very tail end.
A little over an hour into the race, Brabham would come in to pit and would let Simon Pagenaud take over. In spite of the stop, Highcroft remained amongst the top-three overall. Simon would even be able to move up to 2nd overall when Chris Dyson would make contact with Jan Magnussen in the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. This would only prove to be prophetic of events soon to come in the race.
An hour and a half into the race, the order was Klaus Graf in the lead for Muscle Milk by more than a lap over Simon Pagenaud for Highcroft Racing and Johnny Mowlem in the Autocon Lola-AER.
Forty-five minutes remained when there was a huge accident on the Andretti straight. Jonny Cocker failed to make sure he had cleared Luke Hines in one of the GTC Porsches. Cocker would hit Hines and sent him hard into the Armco barrier. He would hit at such speed that he would literally destroy a good portion of Armco. This led to the safety car being deployed and the field circulating under the yellow flag for twenty minutes while crews tried to repair the barrier. Due to taking a while, the race was brought under red flag conditions and halted for repairs.
A half hour later, the teams were told to start their engines in five minutes. However, it wasn't to resume the race, at least not totally. Crews notified the officials it would take hours to repair the barrier. As a result, the officials decided to send the cars out for just one lap, under yellow flag conditions. At the completion of the lap, the checkered flag would be shown. The race was over.
In the abbreviated race, Romain Dumas and Klaus Graf had managed to complete 98 laps and took the victory. David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud would also complete 98 laps and would officially finish just under two seconds behind in 2nd place. Tony Burgess and Johnny Mowlem would finish in 3rd for Autocon Motorsports, but down one lap.
Though clearly out-paced, Highcroft would still leave Mosport with valuable points. More importantly, it finished right behind Muscle Milk; and therefore, negated the competition from reducing the points margin by a large amount. The team would leave Canada with 16 more points for a total of 152 on the season. Muscle Milk Team Cytosport had earned 20 and would leave the eighth round with 136 points. Only 16 points separated the two teams heading into the ninth, and final, round of the American Le Mans Series Championship. The reality was, the final round would offer more than enough points that even if Highcroft finished well, Muscle Milk could still beat them in the championship. The pressure was definitely on.
The ninth, and final, round of the American Le Mans Series for 2010 was one of the premier events in North America. At the end of September, the American Le Mans Series, and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, arrived in Braselton, Georgia for the Petit Le Mans. This meant it wouldn't just be the regular American Le Mans Series teams that would be present. Being part of the ILMC meant there would be a number of European Le Mans Series competitors in the field. This also meant that the LMP field would be split back up between LMP1 and LMP2 once more.
In spite of being split. Highcroft Racing would have a truly challenging race on their hands. Not only would the team still have to face Muscle Milk Team Cytosport, but also, OAK Racing from the Le Mans Series in Europe. This offered a challenge to the teams because OAK Racing had the potential of taking away a very important position in the results for the race, and therefore, could really affect the outcome of the championship.
On a whole, the circuit suited the HPD ARX-01c chassis. Petit Le Mans takes place at Road Atlanta. The circuit is 2.54 miles in length and features a number of elevation changes. In 1996, the circuit went through some important renovations that has made the facility one that is world class. The first Petit Le Mans endurance race took place in 1998 and has become a mainstay ever since.
Famous for its esses, Road Atlanta features one prominent straight. Lap times around the circuit are normally quick, and with the diesels of Audi and Peugeot for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the race would definitely go down hand over fist.
Because of the ILMC, the field was the largest for any American Le Mans Series event in almost a decade. In all, forty-five cars were entered to take part in the race. Petit Le Mans is an important race, not merely for the ILMC. It is one of only two races throughout the world where the winners of each class receive an automatic invitation to the next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The only other event is Le Mans itself.
Patron Highcroft Racing came to Petit Le Mans with the American Le Mans Series Championship lead and was looking to hold on to repeat as champions. They would not solid performances out of its drivers in order to do that. Due to the fact the race was 1000 miles, Highcroft had Marino Franchitti back with Simon Pagenaud and David Brabham.
Prior to, and during, practice, rain would make an appearance. This made the track damp and different times. In the damp conditions, Highcroft still appeared to be fast. In one session of practice, Simon Pagenaud would lap the circuit with a time just over two seconds slower than the fastest of the LMP1 cars.
Rain continued to fall on the track throughout practice. As a result, many teams would elect not to take part in the session for fear of damaging their cars and the difficulty of finding a comfortable set-up in the constantly changing conditions. Thankfully, the conditions, heading into Saturday, were calling for warmer and drier conditions.
As the conditions began to dry out, the top-end speeds began to come up. A number of the LMP1 category cars were turning in speeds in excess of 200 mph down the back stretch during the mandatory night practice sessions. Marino Franchitti was behind the wheel of the HPD ARX and was proving to have lost nothing in his time away from the car.
As the LMP categories rolled out for qualifying on Saturday afternoon the track temperature was over 100 degrees and the skies were sunny. In spite of the speeds offered by the cars during the night practice sessions, the qualifying times were not that close to the class records for LMP1 and LMP2 posted back in 2008. David Brabham was given the task of putting the HPD ARX in the field. The times amongst the LMP2 competitors were incredibly tight.
David Brabham would record a best time around the 2.54 mile course of one minute, ten seconds and six tenths. This would be a quick time but only good enough for 3rd on the LMP2 starting grid. Brabham would be outshone by Klaus Graf who recorded a time of one minute, ten seconds and five tenths. Only one tenth separated Brabham and Graf. Only one tenth would separate Graf's time and that of Guy Smith who took the pole for Dyson Racing. Smith's best time was also one minute and ten seconds, but four tenths. On the overall grid, Smith would start 6th. Graf would start 7th. And David would start 8th.
The cars formed up for the start of the 1,000 mile, or, 10 hour race. Headed off on the first lap of the race Allan McNish would get by the number 08 Peugeot for 2nd overall. In LMP2 everybody would hold station and would focus on getting through the 1st lap without incident. Then, on the 2nd lap, the race began. Simon Pagenaud would end up getting by the Muscle Milk Porsche for 2nd in LMP2 and began the pursuit of Chris Dyson in the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda.
A safety car would be deployed only about twenty minutes into the running. While many of the LMP1 and LMP2 competitors would pit for fuel, Simon would stay out on the track and would end up taking over the lead in the LMP2 category. Because of the number of competitors that would come in to pit, Pagenaud would end up sitting 2nd in the overall standings early on as well.
Pagenaud's position would quickly be eaten up by the Audis when the race went back to green. In one lap, Simon would go from 2nd to 4th overall, but still had three other LMP1 cars between himself and the Dyson Racing Lola.
Throughout the course of the next hour and twenty minutes, Pagenaud would continue to lead in LMP2 and would run in the overall standings between 4th and 6th. His position would be rather secure when Klaus Graf would have to come into the pits to have an ECU replaced on the Muscle Milk Porsche, and, Chris Dyson would slow up on the course during the first hour. Due to the troubles of the other LMP2 competitors Pagenaud would come in for fuel only and would retain the lead. An hour and fifty minutes into the race, Pagenaud would make another pit stop. The tires would be replaced, fuel would be added and David Brabham would take over behind the wheel. As David re-entered the track, he would do so still in the lead of LMP2.
A safety car was deployed two and a half hours into the race due to an Audi doing some lawn-mowing and causing extensive damage. David Brabham would bring the HPD ARX into the pits and would return to the track still in the lead. As the race went back to green flag running, Brabham would be 5th overall. No sooner had the race gone back green than it was back under yellow conditions due to Maassen coming to a stop at turn seven with the Muscle Milk Porsche. This created some more breathing room for Brabham and Highcroft Racing. The other LMP2 competitors were having troubles, Highcroft was enjoying good reliability to that stage of the race.
An hour later, the difficulties for Muscle Milk just kept coming. It was realized that ever since the beginning of the race the car had been running on just seven of its eight cylinders. This was the reason for the slower pace out of the Porsche Spyder.
Four hours into the race, Dyson Racing's assault would be slowed one more time. The team had suffered problems throughout the season. Petit Le Mans would be no different. The car's rear bodywork would be removed as the crew looked for a problem. The car would end up being taken behind the wall. An hour later, the car would be retired from the race. This only offered more of a cushion to Highcroft.
While some of the LMP1 competitors were suffering from collisions, off-road excursions and wardrobe malfunctions, Highcroft Racing was enjoying a relatively trouble-free run in LMP2. By the time the race was six and a half hours old, Simon Pagenaud was back behind the wheel and with a nine lap lead over 2nd place Sascha Maassen in the Muscle Milk Porsche. Frederic Da Rocha, driving the OAK Racing Pescarolo-Judd was a further seven laps down to Highcroft.
Little past seven hours of running, there were only 100 laps remaining. All Highcroft had to do was hang on and it would take the victory in LMP2, and, would retain the American Le Mans Series Championship title.
David Brabham would stop into the pits eight hours and thirty-eight minutes into the race for what should have been the team's final stop of the race, and the season. He would return to the track with the lead and only needed to nurse the car around to take the victory. However, Brabham would be recalled to the pits. He perhaps was a bit too anxious as he was caught speeding in the pitlane. He would return for a stop and go penalty; the team's only such mistake or issue to that point in the race.
At almost nine in the evening, Stephane Sarrazin would head off on the final lap on the race in the lead with the Peugeot Sport number 08 Peugeot 908. Brabham would also begin one last circuit in the lead in LMP2. This was the way to end the season: in the lead of the LMP2 category and the repeat champion of the American Le Mans Series! What was almost as impressive was the fact Highcroft Racing ended the race 4th overall. Only two of the Peugeots and one of the Audis had beaten them! Muscle Milk Team Cytosport had put together a valiant fight but would end up 7th overall, eleven laps down to Highcroft.
Unlike the first race at Sebring when a late problem hurt the team's chances at victory, the Highcroft Racing team suffered no difficulties. As David Brabham would put it, 'I thought we'd have a few more incidents in this race, but it was less than I thought so the race was great. There isn't a mark on the car today, Duncan (Dayton) (Highcroft Racing's owner) said if we break it today we have to pay for it…'
Duncan Dayton, Highcroft's owner, would be quoted as saying, 'We're thrilled to be here and win this championship for the second year in a row. We set the goal for the beginning of the season to win the championship again.' Speaking of the team's reliability, Dayton would say, 'To go through this entire season without replacing any major part of the car, in all the miles of racing and testing it is a testament to the level of these drivers here.' Brabham would state, 'We finished on the podium in every race'. This level of reliability undoubtedly won the championship for Highcroft Racing against the surging Muscle Milk Team Cytosport.
Having retained the championship in LMP, what challenge could Highcroft Racing pose to themselves going into 2011? The answer to that question would come in early February, and it wouldn't be all that surprising.
After a successful bid to retain its title, Highcroft Racing announced it would compete in LMP1 in 2011 with its new ARX-01e chassis. The team also announced it would return to Le Mans in the LMP1 category, but would also take part in the American Le Mans Series, including the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. Duncan Dayton stated, 'We are very proud to have been invited to return to Le Mans. Our entire team got a taste of the event last year and we are all very hungry for more.' Concerning the driver line-up, Dayton would go on to say, 'David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti combined to form the perfect driver line-up last year and we're looking forward to having them back in the car.'
In spite of facing the challenge from Peugeot and Audi, Highcroft Racing has proven to have the reliability and the ability to be competitive at the bigger races during 2011, and therefore, look fully capable of making it a 'three-peat'. Patron Highcroft Racing