David Brabham and Scott Sharp saw their hopes of securing the American Le Mans Series LMP2 title come to an end at Road Atlanta after the Patron Highcroft team was forced to retire from the Petit Le Mans in the early stages.
The duo headed to the 1000 mile event looking to try and maintain the pressure on Penske Porsche pairing Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, with the Highcroft Acura having closed the gap in the championship after a strong run of results.
An accident in Thursday practice left the team to rebuild the car in time for qualifying, where Brabham qualified seventh in LMP2, but the car was then sent to the back of the grid by race officials having missed the night time practice session on Thursday following the accident.
Sharp took the start of the race and had climbed up to eleventh overall in the 37 car field when he suffered a spin coming out of turn ten on the 17th lap. Although unharmed, the safety crew led Sharp away from the Acura, which meant he was unable to pull across the circuit into pitlane to allow the team to begin repairs.
Race officials allowed Sharp to return to the car, which had been taken to the support pitlane, but it meant he would need to complete a full lap of the circuit to get the car back to the pits to give the team chance to start work. However, with a broken wishbone, the half shaft out of the gearbox and a problem with the drive train, there was no chance of Sharp repairing the damage and the team was forced to call it a day.
“The Patron Highcroft Acura was running great,” Sharp said. “I was taking it easy and trying to get through the traffic but making good progress. I got through turn 10A and then got on the throttle. It's not a tough corner, but the car started to go into a lazy spin then it began to slide and I couldn't help but hit the inside wall. It was like something broke or a tyre went down, it was a very odd feeling and very strange.
“It is a tough day for our Patron Highcroft team. They worked so hard to get the car back together on Thursday after an early crash and now this incident.”
The retirement meant Brabham didn't even get chance to compete in the race itself, while the earlier practice problem meant there was no track time at all for the team's third driver Dario Franchitti.
“It was unfortunate that we had to start from the back of the grid but it wasn't a big deal in what should have been a long race,” Brabham reflected. “Scott was making good progress and he got into a good rhythm when he unfortunately hit the wall. We don't know what exactly happened but it meant that I didn't even get in the car and neither did Dario. We now have to concentrate on rebuilding the car so that we can come back strong and win Laguna Seca for the final round.”