David Brabham's last-lap pole run on Friday at Lime Rock Park was trumped by his perform- ance Saturday in the Northeast Grand Prix.
The No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b driver put in one of the best maneuvers in American Le Mans Series history with a first-turn outside pass of Timo Bernhard to score Acura's first overall victory in two seasons of ALMS competition in front of massive crowd encircling the 1.53-mile road course.
Brabham, who co-drove to his second 24 Hours of Le Mans title last month, came from a 5.5-second deficit with eight minutes remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute feature to move around Bernhard's Penske Porsche on the next to last lap. The native Australian took over the driving chores from Scott Sharp with 90 minutes to go and worked his way from fourth to second on Lap 126. The final 40 laps proved to be an all-out sprint to the checkered flag, as Brabham and Bernhard diced their way through the backmarkers in a thrilling down-to-the-wire finish.
The Patrón Highcroft victory was its second of the 2008 ALMS campaign, following a previous last-lap thriller with Brab- ham passing the No. 7 Penske Porsche on the streets of Long Beach last April.
The win did not come easily for the nearby Danbury, Conn., organization after Sharp collided with a couple of other cars early in the race. The Patrón crew had to replace the No. 9 car's rear wing in quick fashion and Sharp was able to remain on the lead lap as the leaders barreled down on Sharp's mount.
It was then Brabham's spectacular drive to the front capped a dream weekend for the Patrón Highcroft team that in- cluded Friday pole position and Acura's first overall American Le Mans Series triumph.
The Mexican driving duo of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz piloted its No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b to fifth overall Saturday and a fourth-place finish in the LMP2 division. The Lowe's car ran as high as third during the fifth stop on the 11- race ALMS tour, before settling for fifth due to a fuel economy strategy.
The new combination of IndyCar Series star Marco Andretti and Le Mans veteran Franck Montagny drove a solid come- from-behind race in the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Andretti Green Racing Acura ARX-01b machine to finish sixth, overall after starting last in the 27-car field. Andretti, who later drove the Nashville IndyCar Series race Saturday night, started from the the back of the grid and drove to eighth before handing the Acura over to Montagny.
The No. 66 Panasonic ELS Sound de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b had a rough outing Saturday from a front starting spot. Drivers Simon Pagenaud and Gil de Ferran were able to finish the race after several pit stops due to electrical prob- lems. The No. 66 car finished 14th overall, seventh in the LMP2 class.
Northeast Grand Prix ALMS Race (Overall)
1. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
2. Penske Porsche No. 7
3. Penske Porsche No. 6
5. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01b No. 15
6. ANDRETTI GREEN XM ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
9. DE FERRAN PANASONIC ACURA ARX-01b No. 66
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Acura Sports Car Challenge
Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Lexington, OH (2.25 miles)
Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 2:10 p.m. (EDT)
Distance: 2 hours, 45 minutes
TV: NBC-TV, July 20, Noon EDT
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "This race was a tough one. With the sand coming up on the racing surface, it was very easy to make mistakes. I am massively relieved we were able to pull off this win. It was a hard charge to catch the Penske car at the end. To go around the outside of Turn One and make that pass on Timo [Bernhard] was a driver's dream move. I knew the Patrón Acura was really good today. I had a lot of confidence in the car to make that type of move with only a lap or two left. I knew our car had the grip and I had to go for it. This is huge win for our team, being that it is a home race. It is very exciting to get Acura its first overall win in the American Le Mans Series. Everyone at Acura and HPD has worked hard for this win. It is a amazing to think where the Highcroft team has come from starting last year with an all-new operation. Now, this overall win at Lime Rock is just a fitting climax for us."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "This is an unbelievable win. We felt this would be a good track for us, as will Mid-Ohio next week. On the first lap, one of the Penske Porsches tried to slide under me in the first turn. I didn't want to get into the marbles but the car shot up the track. Then I was wide, and the Penskes and the Audis got by me. That got me mad, so I kept my head down and drove as hard as possible. We knew we would be loose [oversteer] with the car early on. I don't know what happened with [Simon] Pagenaud during an early-race incident. I was going into the chicane and he hit me and I spun. I got back going and just tried to stay out of trouble. I wanted to give David [Brabham] a good car for the end. Duncan [Dayton] and the crew did a great job with strategy today."
DUNCAN DAYTON (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b team owner): "Long Beach was a huge win for us. The first one is always the hardest. We came back from adversity and after getting hit from behind with Scott. We had to pit and then go back out and change a floor on the car. It is great that [chassis spe- cialist] Nick Wirth and his guys have this new quick-change rear and floor for us. It is tough to change things here and not lose a lap. To see David drive the Patrón Highcroft Acura that way again was sen- sational. Just like he did from behind at Long Beach. Scotty did a good job at the start of race with some of aero [dynamic] stuff hanging off the car. That makes it hard to drive. The competition level is so high here in the ALMS, and to win overall is an honor. I am so proud of everyone on our team. Now, we move to Mid-Ohio next week and look to win at the Acura Sports Car Challenge."
ROB HILL (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b team manager): "We definitely rolled the dice with the fuel meter today. I had my fingers crossed with two minutes to go in the race. We were going for it and, if it ran out of fuel, those were the breaks. That was David being David at the end. He is one awesome driver! When you need it from him, he just delivers. It was a tremendous win for the team."
ERIK BERKMAN (President, Honda Performance Develop- ment): "Wow! You couldn't have written a better story for our group at Acura and HPD. It was a wild weekend with the front row for Acura and then we are bumping into each other. We looked out of conten- tion in the middle of the race. The Patrón Highcroft team did some heroic work in the pits to stay on the lead lap. It was an amazing race. I followed Robert Clarke in this position, and Robert did a massive amount of work to help make this win pos- sible. I am proud of all of the Acura teams and I am sure he is, too. Winning overall is a new milestone for this young Acura program. But we have to continue to work hard and keep pushing. I want to congratulate Duncan [Dayton] and the whole Patrón Highcroft Racing organization for a superb effort in this Lime Rock victory."