Long Beach: Highcroft Leads Acura's Sweep of the Grid

Olivier Beretta earned Corvette Racing's final GT1 pole in the American Le Mans Series

A year after helping Patrón Highcroft Racing score a landmark class victory at Long Beach, David Brabham took the overall pole position Friday for the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach. Brabham turned a lap of 1:11.627 in the Acura ARX-02a that he will share with Scott Sharp.

Brabham outpaced de Ferran Motorsports’ Gil de Ferran by just 0.072 seconds for Patrón Highcroft’s first pole in LMP1 and its fourth in the last two seasons. Brabham set a class record, bettering Lucas Luhr’s time last year in an Audi R10 TDI by 0.138 seconds.

“It was the best the car has been handling this year,” a clearly satisfied Brabham said. “I was very surprised we were quicker than the Audis. The track really gripped up a lot. It made it much more fun because you could really stick the car deep in the corners.”

Brabham won last year in LMP2 with a daring last-lap pass of Penske Racing’s Romain Dumas. It was Patrón Highcroft’s first Series victory, the first of four on the season with Sharp. To say it was a turning point is an understatement. With an overall win two weeks ago at St. Petersburg, Brabham thinks the same may be happening this year, albeit much earlier.

“When a team goes from thinking they can win to knowing they can win, it gives their confidence a huge boost,” Brabham said. “We saw it last year. We now have the same sense of knowing again after winning at St. Petersburg.”

De Ferran, a three-time pole winner at Long Beach in his CART days, will team with Simon Pagenaud. He appeared to have a good shot at knocking Brabham off pole before a late-session spin that caused rear bodywork damage to the back of the navy blue Acura.

“I told the team I didn’t think I could find much more when Gil was gaining,” Brabham said. “I thought we had a bit more cushion but it was pretty amazing to see two cars like that go so close.”

Adrian Fernandez qualified third overall and first in LMP2, his second class pole of the season. His time of 1:13.134 (96.874 mph) in the Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b bettered Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith by just 0.244 seconds.

Adrian Fernandez won his second P2 pole of the season.
Fernandez and Luis Diaz are searching for their third straight class win to open the season.

“The focus this year is finishing races, and we’ve done that so far,” said Fernandez, who also was on the P2 pole at Sebring to open the season. “We were quite happy with the car in the morning. It was pushing a little bit and we made a small change but it made the car a little too loose in qualifying. The Acura is tremendously fast even with the additional weight and air restrictions on the engine.”

Fernandez and Diaz are in extremely good championship position even after just two races. But things appear to be tightening up. Smith put his Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 as close as either of the Dyson coupes have been all season.

Smith was 0.385 seconds ahead of Butch Leitzinger in the sister Dyson entry. This is just the third race for the Lola-Mazda combination.

“We started seeing the Mazda getting closer and closer, and it was a little too close for comfort at the end,” Fernandez said. “It should be a good race tomorrow. They are gaining with the Mazda package. It took us a few races last year to get used to the new car, and they are doing the same this year.”

Quite appropriately, Olivier Beretta earned another place in the American Le Mans Series’ history books with the final GT1 pole for Corvette Racing in North America. Beretta’s lap of 1:17.952 was the 23rd for the five-time class champion, both Series records.

“Long Beach is a very special place,” Beretta said. “The track is very fun to drive and challenging in some places. I am very happy to be here today because I saw the team in 1999 when they first started and I was with my old Viper team at that time racing against the Corvette team.”

Corvette Racing will bow out of GT1 competition at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and is scheduled to return with a debut in GT2 at Mid-Ohio with the Series.

Beretta and Oliver Gavin are keen to win at Long Beach for the second time, having taken victory in 2007. Beretta was 0.192 seconds better than the sister Corvette of Johnny O’Connell, who is driving with Jan Magnussen. The pairing were race winners and Series champions in GT1 last year.

“The No. 4 car wants to win, the No. 3 car wants to win. Within the team we are racing for Corvette. I think everyone is very happy to be part of the team. It’s the last race for the GT1 but we’ll be back in GT2 with a strong car and a strong team.”

Wolf Henzler was awarded the GT2 pole in the Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR after Jaime Melo’s Ferrari F430 GT was excluded in post-qualifying inspections due to a ride height violation.

Henzler’s time of 1:20.369 (88.153 mph) was 0.108 seconds quicker than Patrick Long in Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Porsche. The German marque is looking for its first GT2 victory at Long Beach.

The Farnbacher Loles crew pulled an all-nighter Thursday following a crash that had the crew replace a large majority of the bodywork and components on the Porsche’s rear end.

“I was very gratified for the team and the crew who didn’t sleep all night, repairing the car after our practice crash,” Henzler said. “The lap I turned was the fastest I could go as I was sideways out of many corners. Sometimes the rules work for you and sometimes they work against you. We are just happy with this result.”

Melo had turned a lap of 1:20.111 in the Ferrari F430 GT that he will share with Pierre Kaffer.

The Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach is set for 4:15 p.m. PT on Saturday, April 18 from the famed Long Beach street circuit in southern California. The race will be televised from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 19 on ABC. Qualifying is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT on Friday, April 17. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing and Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com. The race also will be aired on XM Channel 242 and Sirius Channel 126 from 7 to 9 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The race also will mark the next round for the MICHELIN® Green X�� Challenge. For tickets, visit americanlemans.com or gplb.com.