David Brabham, Scott Sharp and the Patron Highcroft Acura team secured a third American Le Mans Series podium in four rounds with second overall at Miller Motorsport Park on Sunday, enough to retain the lead in the LMP1 standings despite a tough weekend.
The Salt Lake City event marked the team's second runners-up finish of the campaign, following a similar result last time out in Long Beach and, with victory from St Petersburg still the highlight of the season, only the disappointment of the Sebring season-opener prevents a 100 per cent podium record for the Patron Highcroft squad.
Despite a good start from Sharp, the Acura couldn't hold off Jon Field on lap one, the turbo-powered Lola enjoying a straight-line speed advantage thanks to the Miller circuit's high altitude. Although Sharp - who was only competing alongside Brabham having ensured his place in the Indianapolis 500 the previous weekend - regained position on lap four, the time spent trying to pass Field meant valuable ground has been lost to the identical de Ferran Motorsports Acura, which would prove impossible to regain.
Brabham took over behind the wheel of the striking black-and-green ARX-02a approaching the one hour mark - after Sharp had pitted from running around 30secs behind the leading Acura - but further time was lost when the American had difficulty loosening his left lap belt, delaying his exit from the car.
There was more trouble with the belts as Brabham left the pits, the Australian realising that his left shoulder strap was not securely fastened, forcing him to slow on his out lap while he tried to get it in place, losing at least another half-lap.
With Simon Pagenaud and the de Ferran Acura nearly a minute up the road, the 43-year old battled through traffic to claw back around twelve seconds, setting the Patron car's fastest lap at 1min 33.008secs in the process, before the quick-thinking Highcroft team brought him in to the pits with an hour to go to take on fuel, but deciding to double-stint the car's Michelin tyres in the hope of saving around 15 seconds.
Despite their efforts, the absence of the usual safety car periods did not play into their hands, and Brabham settled in to conserve second place in the hunt for vital championship points. He remained unchallenged to take the chequered flag as the only other car on the lead lap and completing an all-Acura podium ahead of the Fernandez LMP2 example.
“Another second place, our best result in Salt Lake City, has scored good points and helped to help retain the championship lead, but it was a tough race for us today,” Brabham admitted, “We lost around 15 seconds trying to retake second at the beginning of the race and it was an uphill struggle from there. I can't remember the last ALMS race where we didn't have a safety car and we could have really used one today, but we didn't get the break.
“We also had a few hold-ups in the pits, which lost us a ton of time - as I got on to the pit straight, I realised that my left belt wasn't secured, so I had to coast on part-throttle and try to get this the pin in the buckle, or risk coming into the pits again.