The brand new Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01e challenged for overall victory in the opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series, taking the fight to the factory Audi and Peugeot teams and coming up just 30 seconds short of overall honours.
After taking delivery of its new LMP1 chassis just seven days ago, the Highcroft team - and drivers David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud - produced a stunning performance, frequently trading the lead with a pair of proven Peugeot 908 turbo-diesels throughout the race.
The new HPD-powered ARX-01e proved to be nearly a match for the pace of the established Peugeot and Audi competition, and regularly ran longer stints between fuel stops. As a result, the final hours developed into a thrilling contest between the leading works Peugeot 908, the Highcroft HPD machine, and the year-old Peugeot of French privateer Team ORECA.
All three cars remained on the same lap throughout the final three hours and traded the lead between pit-stops. Having led the race at half-distance, and run nose-to-tail with its rivals with 90 minutes remaining around the 3.7-mile Florida circuit, Pagenaud made Highcroft's final stop with 50 minutes remaining. With both Peugeots making their last stops ten minutes later, Loic Duval - in the ORECA Peugeot - emerged with a 40-second lead over his fellow Frenchman who, in turn, was 30 seconds ahead of Peugeot Sport's Frank Montagny.
Over the final 20 minutes, Montagny closed to within seven seconds of a fuel-saving Pagenaud, but the Highcroft driver turned some of the fastest laps of the night-time hours in the final five minutes to clinch second by a scant 13 seconds.
More to follow....