Australia's David Brabham became one of the faces of the American Le Mans Series, taking part in the very first event organized by his longtime friend and team owner, Don Panoz. From winning his class in that inaugural edition of Petit Le Mans in 1998 (BELOW RIGHT) to becoming the first driver to win races in all four ALMS classes to earning consecutive LMP1 championships in 2009 and 2010, the 48-year-old has his name written throughout the series history books and will close his ALMS career in fitting style as part of Extreme Speed Motorsport's Petit Le Mans lineup.
Brabham, who drove with his longtime Highcroft Racing teammate and 2009 co-champion Scott Sharp earlier this year at the 12 Hours of Sebring (BELOW LEFT), will return to the cockpit of ESM's No. 01 HPD ARX-03b P2 entry, which he'll share with team owner Sharp and Anthony Lazzaro.
“I know Atlanta well and I had a great race in 1999 at the second Petit Le Mans, so it is a special place for me,” said Brabham, who will farewell the ALMS as the series holds its final race before transitioning into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014.
“I know we have a very strong driver lineup, so it gives us and the team a great shot at winning,” he continued. “It will be the last race of the ALMS – a series I have spent the last 12 years of my life racing. I feel privileged to be doing the last one.”
Radio Le Mans host John Hindhaugh, who has called almost all of Brabham's races in North America, says with 104 starts, 23 wins and 61 top-3s, Brabs' place in ALMS history has been cemented.
"I think David Brabham, as a driver, is the international face of the ALMS," he remarked. "He was there for that first race, before the ALMS in 1998, driving for Don Panoz. I remember turning up at Road Atlanta in 1998, my first race in America, and saw him having a cup of tea with the wrong team – someone other than the Panoz team. I thought I had a scoop; he must have been talking to them about switching teams! I walked up and asked what he was doing, and he said, 'No worries, mate, it's different over here. They do things differently, and I think you'll like it.' He was absolutely correct.
"I loved it and he was the embodiment of the series, of the spirit that made the ALMS so special. It can't be questioned. I can't think of anything better than Scott Sharp calling and bringing in Brabs to try and get the championship for ESM. Whether he's in a GT car or a prototype, time is never wasted with Brabs in the car. This is a classy move by ESM and a perfect send off for Brabs."
Another familiar driver will join ESM for the ALMS season and series finale as GT ace Rob Bell partners with team co-owner/driver Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek in the second Tequila Patron-sponsored P2 entry.
The 34-year-old Briton was a key part of ESM's endurance racing lineup in 2011 when the team competed in the ALMS GT category, and with an opening in the No. 02 car, Bell has been given the chance to prove himself in a prototype.
“I'm delighted to be asked back to race with ESM,” said Bell. “I enjoyed my races in 2011 and think I fitted in well to the team ethos. The difference this time is the move from GT to prototype which makes it even more interesting for me. I'm really looking forward to driving with Ed again and pairing up with Johannes. I can't wait to get started and hopefully repay their faith in me.”
Coming off of a GT class win at last year's Petit Le Mans event, Sharp hopes reuniting with Brabham for the ALMS finale, along with drafting in Bell, will deliver a similar outcome.
“I think we have great driver lineup,” he said. “I'm excited for both David and Rob to join us. We continue to learn and hone in on our setup and get closer and closer to where we want to be. It would be really sweet for all of that to culminate and repeat as winners there.”