David Brabham and Scott Sharp have closed in on the LMP2 points lead in the American Le Mans Series with second overall and in class at Belle Isle.
The latest impressive performance from the Patrón Highcroft Racing duo means they are now just four points behind leaders Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in the championship battle.
Brabham took the team's second outright pole position of the season and followed that with another high points-scoring finish, ensuring that the ALMS heads for the final two rounds of the season set for a title fight that will go down to the wire. The team's continued success comes on the weekend that Acura announced it will move to LMP1 with Patrón Highcroft Racing for 2009, with Brabham and Sharp confirmed as the driver line-up.
A blistering start from Sharp saw the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura take the lead from turn one and remain unchallenged throughout two safety car periods within the first hour. Heading the field for 49 laps of the twisty 2.07-mile street circuit, Sharp only relinquished the lead when he was blocked in heavy traffic, allowing Simon Pagenaud past. After an impressive stint, Sharp pitted under the third full course caution on lap 56.
Brabham joined the fray for round nine fifth overall and fourth in class still under caution. He nailed the restart when the field returned to green flag racing on lap 63 and took Gil de Ferran the following lap. With the LMP1 Audi of Marcel Fässler the next target, Brabham proceeded to post flying laps to close the 2.5 second gap to less than half a second in five laps. Just two laps later Brabham took the Audi for third overall and in class, and made off for the leading pair of Franck Montagny and Timo Bernhard.
Brabham's progress was hampered by traffic, which was always going to play a major part in the Detroit round's outcome. When championship rival and second-placed Bernhard was handed a stop and go penalty in the pits for avoidable contact with a GT car, Brabham claimed second overall and in LMP2 on lap 80.
Although Montagny was leading the fray five and a half seconds up the track, Brabham was in hot pursuit and reduced the fellow Acura's advantage to just one second within eight laps. Just as a third consecutive win didn't look out of the question for Brabham a fourth full course caution was called on lap 92 as the race approached the final 15 minutes.
Racing resumed with nine minutes remaining on lap 96 but with a comfortable 15 seconds over the Audi, a solid second place and another podium finish in the bag, Brabham brought the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura home with valuable championship points. With Bernhard finishing fourth overall and in class, following the later exclusion of the Audi under weight and technical restrictions, the Penske Racing pair lead the LMP2 battle by four points on 159 with Brabham and Sharp on 155.
“Belle Isle is such a tricky circuit we knew this race would be about getting to the end in good shape,” Brabham said. “We've certainly achieved that here today thanks to a fantastic effort from the Patrón Highcroft Racing team. Scott did a fantastic first stint and although the team called a great pit stop other teams were on different strategies and we got a bit behind, but it all worked out as some cars had to pit again later. The car was going really well and I had such good grip that I was able to hustle up until the final yellows.
“Although the safety car helped us a bit I lost grip and didn't quite have enough to try and pass Franck. I had to keep the championship in mind, with second place comes solid points so we've done what we needed to do. The Patrón Highcroft team are doing a fabulous job race after race and we're looking really strong as we head for Petit Le Mans.”