After a rookie season of near-misses, it's starting to look like de Ferran Motorsports can do no wrong after Simon Pagenaud and Gil de Ferran won again in the American Le Mans Series – taking a third straight win at Lime Rock Park.
Pagenaud crossed the finish line in his Acura ARX-02a 43.776 seconds ahead of David Brabham, who appeared to be on his way to a second straight Lime Rock victory with Patrón Highcroft Racing team-mate Scott Sharp until a punctured tyre with 13 minutes left ended those hopes.
“We started in the middle of last year; not only do we have a steep learning curve in sports cars, but we started a team from scratch,” said team owner de Ferran. “We are just over a year old, and we really used these last two months to our advantage. I am quite happy about the evolution of the team. We had a little good fortune today. But it was good. We had a good race.”
It was a fantastic battle between the two Acuras. More often than not, things were nip-and-tuck between the two around the tight and twisty track and through the traffic. Patrón Highcroft seemed to be in ideal position to repeat last year's maiden overall victory by taking fuel and left-side tires only during its last scheduled stop. The move allowed Brabham to get out of the pits before Pagenaud, who pitted two laps earlier, came around.
Twenty minutes later, Brabham pitted to replace rear tyres and Pagenaud blew by.
“I honestly didn't have the pace to come back on him,” Pagenaud said. ““I am going to remember this race forever. I think my heart rate was at maximum all race because of the traffic and the ending.”
Dyson Racing won for the first time in the Series since 2005 as Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti broke a four-race victory streak for Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Acura in the class. Franchitti moved ahead of Luis Diaz five minutes into the race, and the Lola-Mazda coupe gained valuable laps when the Acura pitted to replace its rear shock and also experienced downshift problems.
By the time Adrian Fernandez rejoined the race, Franchitti led by six laps.
“I don't think we could have picked a better place (for the first win in the Lola-Mazda),” said Franchitti, who won for the first time in the Series. “It was a combination of a lot of hard work for both cars I have been so close, either overall or in class, it is really a sweet victory. I'm getting a sore face from grinning.”
There wasn't much grinning with about five minutes to go. Leitzinger gave the team a late scare with a brief stall when he had to avoid a spinning GT2 car. The Lola-Mazda's clutch also malfunctioned early in the race, and Leitzinger had to restart the car following pit stops and after the stall on battery power.
“What a fantastic starter motor,” quipped Leitzinger, who was part of the team's victory at Mosport four years ago, also in a Lola chassis. “It felt a little destined to win today. When the car spun out in front of me and then we didn't have a clutch, trying to go uphill, I thought it was over. But this is how it was going to go and it really was a great day. Marino did a stellar job. It is the first of many for him. I am very proud to drive with him. We are happy to be a part of his first win.”