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Patron Highcroft snatches last-gasp Long Beach win

19 April 2010

David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Patrón Highcroft Racing won a titanic battle with Aston Martin Racing's Adrian Fernandez to win the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach with a last-lap pass.

Two years ago, Brabham made a pass on the second-to-last-lap to give Patrón Highcroft Racing a class victory at the historic street circuit. This time, he watched team-mate Pagenaud do the same thing – this time for an overall victory on the final lap. The young Frenchman beat Fernandez across the line by 0.353secs.

“That pass was quite hairy, but I could see Adrian was having some issues,” Pagenaud said, “He was driving differently for the last few laps. I figured if I played it smart and took second, I could get as many points for finishing first [as the highest-finishing full-season entry]. But I'm a racer and thought, if I push him, maybe I could get him to make a mistake, so I waited for the opportunity.”

Pagenaud and Brabham won despite an early penalty for avoidable contact with Harold Primat in the Lola-Aston Martin. Pagenaud had ceded the lead to Fernandez with six minutes remaining, but the Mexican ran wide at turn five on the final lap. That was all the opening Pagenaud needed for the team's first overall victory at Long Beach, and first win since Mosport last season.

“It's nice to be on the other side and watch someone like Simon chase people down,” Brabham admitted, “This team always amazes me and they did a fantastic job with the pit-stop. It was a fight for Simon all the way to the end and, with Adrian's mistake, he capitalised on it.”

Pagenaud had led Fernandez by as much as eight seconds before the Mexican legend and race polesitter fought back to retake the lead. The V12 power gave the Lola-Aston Martin a decided advantage in the high-speed straights, but the nimbleness of the Patrón Highcroft entry through traffic and the corners proved to be the difference.

“Long Beach is very special for me,” Pagenaud said, “As I said over the weekend, this is where I started racing in America in 2006. I've been successful here and, yesterday in qualifying, you could see I love this track. The Patrón Highcroft car was just doing so well. This was our best win ever because it wasn't just my win. We are a team but, certainly, it is my favorite finish.”

Muscle Milk Team CytoSport's duo of Greg Pickett and Klaus Graf placed third in LMP with their Porsche RS Spyder. Pickett and Graf also won the prototype portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge for being the fastest and most energy-efficient LMP entry.

Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long won in GT for Flying Lizard Motorsports, their second straight Long Beach victory. Long, driving the duo's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, finished four seconds ahead of Corvette Racing's Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell.

Four different teams and three manufacturers led at least one lap in the massively tough GT class. Long ran down BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team's Tommy Milner with less than ten minutes to go. The BMW M3 GT did not change tyres and fell back to third at the finish.

Bergmeister started fourth in class but the duo was aided by quick pit work during the third and final caution period when a majority of the field made stops for fuel and driver changes.

“The crew did a fantastic job,” Bergmeister said, “We beat out every car except the two BMWs who did not take tyres. It showed how hard we pushed all day, and Patrick did a great job chasing down the BMWs and passing them on the track during his final stint. The team worked well together to get a win today.”

As at Sebring, the leading cars in class ran virtually nose-to-tail for the majority of the opening half.

“From the GT standpoint, we were pushing all the way throughout,” said Long, who also won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge with Bergmeister.

“I think everyone out there in the second stint with fresh tyres was going really, really hard. It really came down to the battle of pit-stops with just about 45 minutes to go. We have some new crew members and they hit all their marks, so thanks to them tonight. They need to celebrate.”

In LMPC, the duo of Gunnar Jeannette and Elton Julian won in G-Oil's Green Earth Team Gunnar ORECA FLM09. It was the first victory for the drivers and the team with all finishing second in class at the season-opening Sebring race.

“It's a pleasure to work with a team like this, and it's great to be back racing again,” Julian said. “We were a bit unlucky at Sebring but, today, things worked out like they should. Here we are, and I think we deserve it.”

Jeannette crossed the finish line leading by a lap over Sebring class winners Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker in Level 5 Motorsports' entries. The top three cars – the G-Oil/GETG, Level 5 and Genoa Racing entries – all led during the race.

It was an impressive performance for the ORECA prototypes, which were racing on a street circuit for the first time. The Jeannette/Julian entry also gave G-Oil, an environmentally friendly motor oil made from animal fats, its first victory.

“At Sebring, we proved that G-Oil could run for twelve hours and get on pole,” Jeannette said, “Our guys had a wonderful, wonderful pit-stop to get us out in front of the other cars. It was up to me not to put a foot wrong and keep in front. My dad is from Long Beach, all our extended family is from here, so it's even better to have them all here. We were really happy to get the car to the finish without problems.”

JR Hildebrand and Tom Sutherland finished third in the class, on the same lap as the Tucker/Bouchut entry.

Butch Leitzinger and Juan Gonzalez won in GTC for Alex Job Racing, just as they did at Sebring with their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. Leitzinger won by 1.753secs over GMG Racing's entry of James Sofronas and Bret Curtis.

Leitzinger made the winning pass late when Romeo Kapudija – driving another AJR Porsche – slid off track in some loose debris. He and Bill Sweedler finished third.

“He got caught out getting on some marbles, and it could have happened to anyone,” Leitzinger said, “It was just a really great, hard-fought race. It's one of those where you're in the middle of it and thinking 'You know, this is a really great race.' There were three or four cars really going at it. It really was a blast.”

As in the GT class, four different entries led at one point.

“The Porsche is an excellent car and it's proven how good and reliable it is,” said Gonzalez, who drove the opening stint, “The same engine and gearbox is in the car from when we first started. This has been fun for me, and it's been great having Butch to push me.”


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