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Pagenaud Punctures Brabham’s Bid For Win At Lime Rock

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
    Simon Pagenaud and his de Ferran Motorsports-owned Acura came out on top at Lime Rock on Saturday.  (American Le Mans Photo)

Simon Pagenaud and his de Ferran Motorsports-owned Acura came out on top at Lime Rock on Saturday. (American Le Mans Photo)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Correspondent

David Brabham’s bid to back up his Le Mans 24-hour victory was shaping up nicely at Lime Rock Park, scene of the fifth round of the American Le Mans Series. With 15 minutes to go, the Australian and his Highcroft Racing LMP1 Acura had a four-second lead over fellow Acura driver Simon Pagenaud after a two-tire pit stop.

Pole-winner Pagenaud tried to fight back in his de Ferran Motorsports entry after losing the lead when he took four Michelins, but had not been able to close the gap below four seconds.

The Highcroft team, which has yet to beat the de Ferran team in a head-to-head match-up, had its bid deflated when a tire was punctured by debris. That brought Brabham back into the pits with 13 minutes remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute race.

“I felt like we were controlling it,” said Brabham. “We got a puncture in the left rear. What can you do?”

Brabham had spent his first stint trying to catch Pagenaud, who left the pits just in front of Brabham when both teams pitted and exchanged drivers on the day’s only full-course caution just before the one-hour mark.

Team-owner Gil de Ferran had built an 11-second lead over Highcroft starter Scott Sharp before the caution fell. It appeared with Brabham’s inability to find his way past Pagenaud in the heavy traffic on the 1.5-mile, hill-and-dale circuit in Connecticut’s Berkshire mountains that the de Ferran team would roll to a third straight victory unchallenged.

“I think it was a good decision to put on four tires because of all of the debris on the circuit,” said Pagenaud of his pit stop with 37 minutes remaining.

 Pagenaud and de Ferran at Lime Rock (American Le Mans Photo)

Pagenaud and de Ferran at Lime Rock (American Le Mans Photo)

But as the leader, Pagenaud had not been able to guard his fuel mileage with Brabham hectoring his rear wing, forcing him to pit first. Brabham stayed out for four more laps and after seeing the Frenchman take four tires, the Highcroft team decided to change only his left side tires. That put him in front by 4.759 seconds.

“They were able to watch our pit stop to see what we did first,” said de Ferran. “That was good strategy on their part.”

But the victory soon slipped away for Highcroft. “I saw a puff of smoke and I was hoping that would enable me to close the gap,” said Pagenaud. “If it had not been for the puncture, I don’t think I had the pace to catch him.”

Ironically, some debris had blown off part of the front fender earlier in Brabham’s stint and he said that helped him gain some pace.

“I had a bit of understeer before that,” he said of the hole in his left front fender. “I didn’t have the problem after that.”

Following a quick pit stop for a new rear tire, the Highcroft Acura dropped to second. But the team’s drivers retained the lead in the points championship, because the de Ferran entries failed to finish the season’s first two races.

The hybrid Ginetta-Zytek of Corsa Motorsports, driven by Johnny Mowlem and Stefan Johanson, took third on the podium in its first race while relying on both its V-8 engine and a battery supplied by regenerative breaking and an electric motor. The car was seven laps behind the winner. In all, five prototypes entered the LMP1 class.

Dyson Racing scored its first LMP2 class victory with its Lola-Mazda versus the LMP2 Acura of Lowe’s Fernandez Racing. Dyson’s No. 20 entry might have been on the over-all podium with the two LMP1 Acuras if not for a clutch problem that delayed the team’s Lola-Mazda after the exchange to Butch Leitzinger from starter Marino Franchitti. The Scotsman set the fastest lap in the opening hour, which saw the Fernandez team suffer gearbox problems.

In GT2, the Porsche 911 GT3 of Flying Lizard Motorsports took a one-lap lead prior to the caution. Starter Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister held on to beat the pole-winning Ferrari 430 GT of Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer.

Long took the lead in Big Bend with a bump and run versus Kaffer at the 25-minute mark before pulling away. A spin by Joey Hand in the Rahal Letterman Racing BMW M3 dropped the car from second to third in class with just over an hour remaining. Hand had taken the position from Melo one lap earlier.

“For the first time, we were able to stay with the Porsches and the Ferrari,” said Bill Auberlen, who started the No. 90 entry of RLR.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
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