David Brabham secured a third-row starting slot for round seven at Road America, highlighting the straight-line speed disadvantage currently challenging the Patrón Highcroft crew in the newly combined LMP class battle.
Tackling the longest track on the American Le Mans Series calendar, where 75% of the 4.048-mile lap is spent on full throttle, Brabham and teammate Simon Pagenaud once again face an upward struggle against the more powerful LMP1 prototypes.
It was evident from the opening sessions on Friday that the Highcroft LMP2 HPD machine could not challenge the straight line prowess of Mid-Ohio victors Dyson Racing, the Drayson Racing Lola-Judd or Johnny Mowlem in the Autocon Lola. Closest championship rival Klaus Graf also returns to action at Road America in the Porsche Spyder, which is still armed with a 25kg weight reduction.
Moving to the low downforce Le Mans bodywork in a bid to improve its straight-line speed at Elkhart Lake, the Highcroft crew's development bore dividend in each on-track session.
Brabham's all-out efforts during today's 20-minute qualifying session saw a successive stream of improved lap times. However, his eventual fastest time of 1:52.148 fell 2.5 seconds short of the Drayson Racing pole time, securing fifth on the grid for Sunday's race.
Heading into the crucial back-to-back rounds of Road America, followed by Mosport next weekend, Brabham leads the LMP title fight by 23 points. A hat-trick of wins and a trio of second places partnered with blinding drives from the Highcroft duo, near-on faultless car reliability and blinding team strategy often winning out over their more powerful rivals.
Brabham has secured victory for Highcroft at Road America the past two years, taking the LMP2 class spoils in 2008 and the outright LMP1 win last year. However, the reigning champions will now set their sights on a solid points haul to consolidate their championship position.
Brabham commented: “The car wasn't very strong yesterday and we had some concerns, but the team gave me a fantastic car today. We got some great pointers from the first session and with the changes we made leading up to qualifying we have made some improvements. From a race setup perspective I am a lot happier.
“This track really highlights the issues we've been suffering all season. We feel that we aren't getting the rule breaks at the moment and it's a little bit frustrating.
“But we will put that behind us and focus on collecting as many points as possible in tomorrow's race where we need to execute the perfect strategy to even have a chance of getting on the podium.
“I have every confidence in the Patrón Highcroft team and it's been a pretty impressive season so far. The engineers always give us a great race car, so we just need to keep our focus and keep pulling out the kind of performances we have been all season.”