David Brabham and Scott Sharp secured a 'bittersweet' second place in the latest round of the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach after a wrongly imposed pit lane penalty prevented the Patron Highcroft Racing pair from fighting for a second straight victory.
Sharp had taken the start of the race from pole position but lost out to Simon Pagenaud on the run to turn one, before making the most of traffic to regain the lead on lap 22 – extending his advantage before pitting to hand the Acura ARX-02a over to Brabham.
However, the team was hit with a 20 second penalty after IMSA officials ruled that a fire extinguisher crew member wasn't wearing the correct helmet. The penalty, which actually ran to 24 seconds, came despite the fact that the helmet involved had passed scrutineering and was the same one that had been used in each event since the Acura programme began back in 2007.
Following the penalty, Brabham reeled in Gil de Ferran in the leading de Ferran Motorsports Acura and a late caution looked like giving the Australin the chance to go for the lead, only for the yellow flags to remain out until the chequered flag and leave Brabham in second place.
With the penalty proving to be incorrect, team boss Duncan Dayton said there was little option but to launch an appeal, with the result provisional until a final decision is made.
"Hats off to the de Ferran boys for winning the race,” he said. “They drove a great race and we had a very exciting battle going back and forth through traffic.
"On our first pit stop the IMSA official incorrectly assessed a 20 second penalty for us for our fire extinguisher guy wearing the wrong type of helmet. We were subsequently told that we shouldn't have received the penalty, but it had already been served.
"They actually held us for 24 seconds. We had no choice but to protest the decision and it is pending review.”
Both Sharp and Brabham were understandably disappointed that the penalty had effectively ended hopes of adding to the victory secured in St Petersburg.
"You hate to lose one this way especially when nobody did anything wrong,” Sharp said. “We got a bogus penalty and when we later heard that the equipment was fine and the fire extinguisher guy has been wearing the same helmet for the past couple of years - that is really a shame because the car was running great and I think we could have won this one.”