5 April 2009
Patron Highcroft wins in St Pete
David Brabham and Scott Sharp gave the new Acura ARX-02a its first overall race victory as the marque aptly swept the board in the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St Petersburg.
Having qualified at the front of its respective classes on Friday, Acura went on to take full advantage of the lack of opposition from Audi and Peugeot - which overcame it at Sebring - to claim victory in both the LMP1 and LMP2 categories as the American Le Mans Series settled into the swing of shorter sprint events that make up the bulk of its schedule.
Brabham's Patron Highcroft ARX-02a finished 32.150secs ahead of the LMP2 entry of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz as Acura took the top two positions overall positions, and was only denied a likely podium sweep by problems for the de Ferran Motorsports ARX-02a that had qualified on pole in the hands of Simon Pagenaud. Fernandez and Diaz won LMP2 for the second race in a row, having taken their Lowe's Fernandez Racing ARX-01b to success at Sebring.
"I can't say enough about the whole job [Honda Performance Development] and Wirth Research have done with this car," Sharp said, "I stepped into the P2 car last year and it was pretty much sorted, but everything on this car is new - and we've come a long way in three or four months. We all feel that this car has tremendous promise and will only get stronger and faster and better."
Sharp ran second to the de Ferran car - and owner/driver Gil de Ferran - for much of his stint but, after an early spin, took massive chunks out of the Brazilian's lead with every lap in the closing minutes of their duel. The former IndyCar winner then pitted under caution - the only one of the day - and handed off to Brabham.
The Australian made short work of the Fernandez car, passing its owner-driver for the lead eight minutes after the restart, and then proceeded to lap without a hitch, while the de Ferran car struggled with electrical and fuel pump issues that eventually sidelined Pagenaud with 15 minutes remaining. With a comfortable margin over Fernandez, Brabham still had to cope with a dangerously greasy first turn every lap, but managed to bring the Highcroft car home.
"Scott had a very strong car and did a very good job of pressuring de Ferran, which I think caused him to pit early," Brabham said, "If you pit early like that, it puts you in danger if a yellow comes out, and that worked in our favour. I had to push, but not push too hard - I went into turn one sliding a few times. It may have looked easy but it really was not."
Acura became the first manufacturer to win both prototype classes in the same race, while Brabham and Sharp took their second overall win together, adding to the first which came at Lime Rock last July, and now have five class victories together, including the four in LMP2 last year.
Fernandez and Diaz were equally comfortable winners of LMP2, coming home a lap clear of Dyson Racing's Guy Smith and Chris Dyson in the first of the team's Mazda-powered Lola B09/86s. The second Dyson entry of Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti placed third after a mid-race stop to replace a right front puncture.
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