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David Brabham Defeats de Ferran at Elkhart

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 16 2009
It was a David Brabham kind of day at Road America on Sunday. David Brabham was the speediest at Road America on Sunday.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Elkhart Lake, Wis. – In a battle of two master craftsmen on one of America’s finest road racing circuits, David Brabham held off the challenge from Gil de Ferran for the last 14 laps to bring Highcroft Racing the victory by 0.461 seconds in the American Le Mans Series event at Road America .

The Acuras of Highcroft and de Ferran Motorsports were nose-to-tail as the green waved for a re-start with 29 minutes remaining in the two hour, 45-minute race.

Once again, a two-tire stop for Highcroft had brought Brabham the lead over the de Ferran entry. But unlike Lime Rock, where a puncture cost Brabham and co-driver Scott Sharp the victory, the Highcroft duo recorded the win and ended the four-race winning streak of de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud.

“You just have to drive the wheels off it,” said Brabham of the duel between the two ARX-02a entries. “We knew whoever got out of the pits first was going to win the race.”

The de Ferran team opted for four tires instead of two, a decision driver de Ferran thought would spell the difference. “I felt we were quicker than David,” he said. “But I had too much understeer behind him. I couldn’t quite get close enough to attempt a maneuver.”

Brabham kept his lines through the corners consistent enough to add to de Ferran’s problems. “I have enough experience to know that if you’re watching your mirrors you’re going to end up where you’re looking,” he said.

When a final caution flew with five laps remaining that again bunched the field, de Ferran still could not take advantage. “I was trying everything in the book,” he said. “By flicking the car sideways I could come out of Turn 12 closer to him. But on the other corners coming onto the straights I couldn’t make that work. I was thinking I might be able to out-brake him at Turns 5 and into 12, but I couldn’t get quite close enough to attempt something.”

In a race where the pace was slowed by four cautions for 15 of the 71 laps on the 4.0-mile circuit, pole starter Pagenaud gave up the lead to Highcroft’s Sharp, electing to pit early for fresh Michelins and fuel after 15 minutes when the first yellow flew. The early fueling would mean less fueling time for the rest of the race.

But that strategy cost track position for the de Ferran Acura when the Highcroft team was lucky enough to be in the pits as the second yellow flew at the one hour mark. Pagenaud had to wait behind the safety car before pitting.

After the driver exchanges, in a foreshadowing of the finish, de Ferran was able to close the gap versus Brabam during the second hour. But once close to the rear wing of Brabham, he was not able to get by before the third safety car period occurred just before the two-hour mark. Due to wave-arounds, the field re-started with 29 minutes remaining as the late-race duel began.

In the LMP2 category, the Lowe’s Fernandez team opted for fuel only for its Acura ARX-01b on the final stops during that third yellow period. But Adrian Fernandez was still able to hold on and beat the pole-winning Lola-Mazda of Butch Leitzinger, which took four fresh Michelins.

“We were having some problems with understeer the whole weekend,” said Leitzinger, whose co-driver Marino Franchitti won the pole, the first for Mazda in the ALMS and second in LMP2 for the Scotsman.

Fernandez and co-driver Luis Diaz attributed the turbocharged Lola-Mazda’s pace to more speed on the straightaway in qualifying. But the Dyson duo did not have enough of an advantage to catch up once getting behind. After dropping back to save fuel, the Dyson team’s No. 20 lost more track position due to a longer re-fueling on its first stop versus the shorter stop for the less thirsty Acura.

The No. 16 Dyson Lola-Mazda of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson lost a lap because it was forced to enter closed pits under the second yellow for fuel. It later suffered misfire.

BMW scored its first victory in the GT2 class since 2001 as pole winner Joey Hand and Bill Auberlen made it look easy. The race was decided by the first safety car period. When Pagenaud brought the de Ferran Acura down the pit road from the lead, that allowed both of Rahal Letterman Racing’s M3 entries to gain a lap during the ensuing wave around, which is used to put the race’s over-all leader at the front for re-starts.

Hand attributed the team’s first pole to the development of the M3’s dampers and Dunlop tires.

Martin and Melanie Snow closed in on the GT Challenge class championship with their victory aboard a Porsche 911 GT3.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 16 2009
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