Unpredictable and perpetually changing weather on Saturday played havoc on the 16th Annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the season finale for the American Le Mans Series Presented By Tequila Patron.
At the conclusion of the 10-hour/1,000-mile race, the No. 01 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b was seconds away from a victory but a small pit stop miscue made the difference in the race. David Brabham crossed the finish line in second place of the P2 class which earned Scott Sharp a runner-up finish in the championship standings.
Meanwhile the No. 02 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b of Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Rob Bell fought to a fourth place finish in the final ALMS race.
The oscillating weather provided a challenge at the start of the race as light rain showers plagued both the warm-up session and pre-race activities. As a result, ALMS officials declared the race “wet” which enabled teams to start on the tire of its choosing – wet or slick. Both ESM Patrón-sponsored machines started on the Michelin wet/rain tires.
Sharp started the race for the No. 01 Tequila Patrón team. At the drop of the green, Sharp settled into the second position in class but regained the lead after four laps. He then pitted (nine minutes complete/Lap 7) for dry/slick tires. While on the first pit stop, Sharp was charged with a pit lane speeding violation and had to serve a stop-and-go penalty. During his 56-minute stint, Sharp led for six laps before turning driving duties over to Anthony Lazzaro.
Lazzaro’s stint began on Lap 45 (56 minutes complete) and ran second in class. Midway through his opening stint, it began to rain so he pitted for rain tires and fuel. Lazzaro worked his way around the wet track and took the P2 race lead nearly two hours in. A quick few minutes later, Lazzaro pitted for slick tires and he returned in second position.
Lazzaro then took the P2 race lead on Lap 113. Shortly after taking the lead, the rain began to fall again. Lazzaro radioed with the crew and the team determined that the next pit stop would include tires, fuel and a driver change to Brabham.
At Lap 134, a quick 40 minutes into his stint, Brabham took the lead of the P2 class. Brabham was passed for the lead six laps later. Brabham and the No. 01 engineering team took a risk and remained on the slick tires while the competition opted for wets. The strategy proved beneficial since the track was drying and the other P2 competitors pitted for slick tires, Brabham worked his way into the race lead after 158 laps. The track remained dry for the balance of Brabham’s stint. While in the lead, he pitted for the scheduled stop of tires, fuel and driver change to Sharp.
Sharp began his second stint in the P2 lead. As the quickest P2 car on the track during his stint, Sharp worked his way to a 15-second lead on the field. Sharp battled the competition and shuffled between first and second in the P2 class. He re-emerged as the race leader just passed the halfway point of the race with 216 laps completed. Sharp led for another 27 laps until the scheduled pit stop when Lazzaro returned to the driver’s seat.
Lazzaro’s second stint was a copy of Brabham’s and Sharp’s stints before him – race to the P2 lead and then shuffle back to second during pit stops. Lazzaro was leading the class on Lap 245 before a full course caution. He pitted for fuel, remerged from the pits in second and worked his way back into the lead after 278 laps. Lazzaro then pitted and Brabham raced to the checkered flag.
Brabham and two Level 5 Motorsports cars alternated for the race lead throughout the closing two hours of the race. With less than an hour to go, the No. 551 Level 5 car experienced an issue in the pit and Brabham was able to take the lead. In the closing laps of the race, the No. 01 ESM team suffered a miscue and negated the Level 5 mistake as a result. The No. 01 team lost several valuable seconds in the pit and was unable to regain the lead before the 1,000-mile mark of the race.
The No. 02 Tequila Patrón HPD, with van Overbeek behind the wheel, started the race with the Michelin wet tires. A quick six minutes into the race (four laps complete), van Overbeek was running second in class and opted to pit and change to the dry/slick tires. While on the first pit stop, van Overbeek also was charged with a pit lane speeding violation and had to serve a stop-and-go penalty. He was running has high as third in class before pitting on Lap 43 and handing the car over to Brown.
Shortly into Brown’s stint, a light rain started. Brown spun in Turn 5, but was able to continue. He limped the No. 02 machine back to the pits and the team repaired the minor bodywork damage. While in the pits, Brown switched to wet tires, took fuel and returned to the field. Under hectic conditions, Brown’s stint alternated between wet and dry conditions. Upon completion of his minimum drive time, he pitted and Bell began his stint. Bell re-entered the race in the fourth position, where the No. 02 stayed for the remainder of the race.
Bell spun at the top of the hill and radioed the crew that “something broke.” He had to drive at a snail’s pace for nearly a full lap before returning to pit lane. The team diagnosed the issue as a broken tie rod. It was replaced and Bell returned to the track to complete his stint.
The No. 02 team alternated the remainder of the race with van Overbeek and Bell sharing the driving duties.
“It was a great week for the team. We unloaded well, practiced well and improved the car. Obviously we qualified very well, and we raced well because we ran at the front most of the day.
“I really thought we had a great car. It came down to a little bit right there at the end. On our last stop, there was a little bit of confusion once we put a splash of fuel in. Normally there is someone standing in front of the car telling the driver to leave and that person wasn’t there. I think it caused some confusion and Brabs just naturally hesitated three or four seconds. He didn’t know if he should go or not go because no one was telling him what to do. Unfortunately, that was about the four-second difference. Ryan Briscoe (Level 5, No. 551) pitted the next lap and came back out his was in front of us.
“I was really happy with the car. It was a lot of fun. I pulled away from the Level 5 No. 552 guys pretty easily. Briscoe and I went at it a bit, which was fun. I was really comfortable in the car.
“It is a shame because I think we deserved to win this race, but we’re culminating with some of the best. We’ve shown we’ve learned so much this year. That’s all very rewarding to everybody. It is a shame that we probably, ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ won this race and we didn’t.
“We made huge gains this year and that was mission number one and we accomplished that. Level 5 from a resource, driver and team perspective has got to be one of the best P2 teams in the world. It is a great barometer for us and if we can go up against them, we should technically be able to go up against anybody.”
“That was not the ending that we wanted to have at the final ALMS race. There were problems all day again, just like we’ve had all year. We had a really hard day. It was the hardest stint that I’ve ever done in racing. I was always on the wrong tires. It was just really hard. I don’t know another word to describe my stint. We had issues all day long with the car. The team fought through it, the crew got the car turned around. We finished the race, so we’re happy.
“The No. 01 car had a really promising day. That whole team did a marvelous job. Brabham drove his tail off all week. He drove a great last stint. There was a little hiccup in the pit and it probably cost the No. 01 the race. That kind of goes back to what happened to us at VIR. This
is a team sport and all it takes is one mistake and it costs you the race. It is a very cruel sport.
“We’re happy. We’re looking at this as a year to get comfortable with the car. I think we made big strides. We’ll continue to make big strides, so I’m happy. We get a few weeks off before we get strapped in and see what we’ve got. There will be new challenges for us with the new rules for next year.”
JOHANNES VAN OVERBEEK
“It was dry at the beginning, but the car worked well. It seems like so long ago now.
“We got off to a decent start. All race long we were hamstrung by a lot of miscellaneous problems that sort of encapsulated our year in one race. Our car was running on the 2011 tires and the other car was running on the 2013. We just didn’t have the pace today. This was the first time all year we didn’t have good pace. It is frustrating. Rob, Ed and I drove well. We did what we could but between the problems and the weather and our lack of pace, it was a long day.
“I’m glad the year is over and I’m looking forward to a little break before we attack next year. I want to thank Ed, Patrón, Scott and ESM for putting together a great program. Thanks to Rob for joining us here; he did a great job all weekend.
“I really enjoyed racing the P2 car this year. It was the first time I’ve been forced to learn something completely new in a long time. So it has been a welcomed challenge and something I really love. I’ve driven GT cars since, and they’re not as cool as I thought they were in retrospect.”
“All in all, the week was good. This is probably the best the car has ever driven for me. The car drove really, really well. The team did a fantastic job. It is a 10-hour sprint race and we only lost by a few seconds. It was an honor to drive with Scott and David, probably two of the best teammates I ever had.
“To be in this position at my home track at Road Atlanta at Petit, I’m disappointed that we finished second. No doubt about it. I’ve finished second here quite a few times. I’ve never won and this was probably one of the best chances at that. I’m happy to be part of this team, this season, weekend and series. It was nice that ESM called me for Road America, I was going to do this race anyway, but it was great when they called me when they had a position open for a driver in the No. 01; what a privilege. To work with the team already more than I did last year, is a lot of fun. I love this team and I was glad to be a part of it this season.”
“What a race! It is fantastic in one way and damn hurts in another. We were so close to winning. All I can say is that it was a fantastic race, great job by the team. We had a great race car. We had a great qualifying car and we just drove the wheels off of it. We did everything we could. In the end it was the case of the last pit stop and a bit of traffic. I caught back up to Ryan (Briscoe), but it wasn’t close enough. It was a fantastic drive by him and his crew.
“A big thank you to the team for giving me the welcome that they had and everybody involved. I really appreciate coming here for the last ALMS race and have one like this too.
“I can’t complain. I know when I walk away from here that I left nothing on the table this week – absolutely nothing. It was great working with Scott and Anthony. We worked very well as a team. This team is still quite new to this type of car. Level 5 has been racing it for some time, so to be that close all the way through the champion and to have a race like that, shows well for the team.”
“We had a tough race, absolutely. In the first stint, I was kind of thrown in when it was wet and dry, and things were changing. But it was the same for everyone, which was fine. Then I had the toe link break in my first stint. That woke me up; that was better than coffee. I was able to save the car as it was heading toward the wall and I was trying to keep it off the wall. We pitted and we were going right until we had a misfire at the end.
“All in all, it wasn’t a great day. It was joy to be here and I’d love to be back again.
“It was my first time racing a P2 car and that was really cool. I was just trying to get to grips with it in the race. At times we were competitive in the race and at other times we were a little bit off. There’s more to come and I’m sure the guys will do a really good job over the winter.”
Source. Extreme Speed Motorsports
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