Highcroft Racing, headquartered just 40 miles from Lime Rock Park, brought home a hard-fought third place finish Saturday in the Northeast Grand Prix, the sixth stop in the 12-race American Le Mans Series.
With veteran drivers David Brabham and Stefan Johansson at the controls, the No. 9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a battled wheel-to-wheel with the two Penske Porsches through the 2-hour, 45-minute sports car feature on the tight 1.54-mile, eight-turn Lime Rock circuit.
At the end of 174 laps Saturday, the Highcroft Acura finished 16 seconds back of the overall winning Porsche co-driven by Ryan Briscoe and Saasha Maassen. The other Penske machine, piloted by Timo Bernhard and polesitter Romain Dumas, took the runner-up slot. The top three cars were from the LMP2 class. The top LMP1 finisher was an Audi, in fifth overall.
Johansson started the race for Highcroft and ran as high second overall before handing off the driving chores to Brabham, the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner. Brabham worked his way from fifth after the pit stop to third and made a challenge on the Penske pair with less than 30 minutes left in the race. A brilliant move in Turn One by Brabham vaulted him to second.
The third place result marked the second podium finish for Highcroft in 2007.
The XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a from Andretti Green Racing also was a contender during most of the event, with drivers Marino Franchitti and Bryan Herta running third. At the end, Herta's Acura slid off the track in heavy traffic with four laps remaining and had to settle for sixth.
The third Acura machine, the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola, was forced to retire after 50 laps due to a suspension failure. Driver Luis Diaz brought the car to the pits, but co-driver Adrian Fernandez, fresh from a second- place class finish at Le Mans, never got behind the wheel Saturday.
Saturday's Lime Rock event saw one of the biggest spectator crowds in over 10 years.
The next ALMS event is set for July 21 at Mid-Ohio Sports Course, with the Acura Sports Car Challenge on the picturesque 2.25-mile road circuit in Lexington, Ohio.
|NORTHEAST GRAND PRIX ALMS|
|LMP2 Class (TV, CBS-TV, July 8, 1-3 p.m.)|
|1. Penske Porsche No. 6|
|2. Penske Porsche No. 7|
|3. HIGHCROFT RACING ACURA ARX-01a No. 9|
|6. ANDRETTI GREEN ACURA ARX-01a No. 26|
|9. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA Lola No. 15|
|ALMS Point Standings (LMP2)|
|LMP2 Class (TV, CBS-TV, July 8, 1-3 p.m.)|
|1.Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard 107|
|3. Ryan Briscoe, Saasha Maassen 98|
|5. DAVID BRABHAM, STEFAN JOHANSSON 68|
|7. Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger 62|
|8. BRYAN HERTA 58|
|9. Chris Dyson, Guy Smith 54|
|11. ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, LUIS DIAZ 50|
DUNCAN DAYTON (Team owner, #9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "The Porsches were on a different planet today. But we ran strong all day. We had flawless pit work which was great. We recovered from the first pit stop after getting boxed in by Dyson [Racing] because the pits are so tight. We got pushed back and lost a position to Andretti Green Racing. Then when we restarted after the second round we took tires and they didn't, which is what we think put us behind in the pits again. But it's the result that counts – and that speaks for itself – the team is ecstatic at this outcome."
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "It was a pretty good result and points for the Highcroft team. Traffic was difficult for me a few times and that really hurt our times. I felt that I could get through the traffic pretty consistently but I couldn't run with the Penskes. I had to wait to pass a lot of times. That is the nature of the track. It is just narrow. I have driven in all of the classes here at Lime Rock. I much prefer the faster cars like the Acura. You don't have to look in your mirrors as much with these cars. We have learned a lot about the car, and the team is really improved since the beginning of the year. We are giving the Porsches a good run. They had a lot of problems last year. I think Acura is doing an outstanding job in its first year. I am excited about the future about the Acura program."
STEFAN JOHANSSON (#9 Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01a): "We made some changes with the chassis going into the race. And I'm not sure they really worked. I thought the car was better on Friday. I was having a tough time with the handling early in my run. Marino [Franchitti] got a run on me a couple of times but then I got a good rhythm going and I opened up a gap on him. We were closing on the leaders but the traffic is so difficult here. It is a narrow track and passing is hard. It is a very physical track for the drivers. David did a great job battling the Porsches at the end of the race. The Highcroft team has made greats strides with the Acura program."
BRYAN HERTA (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "I saw David [Brabham] up a few cars ahead of me and he was in traffic. I thought if I got close to him that I might have a shot at getting third. I drove the XM Acura deep into the third turn. I tried to go around one of the Audis and a slower GT car. But when I went wide I got in the marbles and the car wouldn't turn. So the car just slid into the weeds. The race was a little better than I thought it would be with traffic. But it is still too tight for the prototypes. The track is tougher than a street circuit because the turns are sweeping and you can't get a run on a slower car. So passing is so much more difficult. I wanted to get third today so I went for it and we missed. We had a couple of problems in the race that hurt us. But I am anxious to get to Mid-Ohio after our recent test."
MARINO FRANCHITTI (#26 XM Satellite Radio AGR Acura ARX-01a): "Due to the weather and couple of issues, I really had no laps coming into the race. Traffic wasn't as bad for me as some others. The car felt good for me. But this place is tough on the drivers. This is one of the most physical races I have had in a long time. The bumps really punish the driver, as well as the car. I think there have been some suspension issues with some other cars due to the track. The start wasn't as bad as in the past with St. Pete and Utah when those starts were wild. Overall, I thought the XM Acura was good. I am just worn out from the hard driving and the track's surface."
LUIS DIAZ: (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura Lola B06/40): "We had a suspension failure today. The rear suspension broke on the Lowe's Acura. It is no one's fault. It is too bad. We were running a consistent pace today and having a patient race. This track is one of the bumpiest we run on the ALMS circuit. That might have been one of the reasons for the failure today. It is a shame for our Lowe's team. We have been preparing for six weeks for this race. So this is a big disappointment."
|Upcoming: Acura Sports Car Challenge|
|Date:||July 20-21, 2007|
|Location:||Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course|
|Track Type:||2.25-mile, 13-turn road circuit|
|Race:||Round 7 of 12 Races, 3:30 p.m.
American Le Mans Series
|Distance:||2 hour, 45 minutes|