Patrón Highcroft Racing is only one race away from claiming back-to-back American Le Mans Series championships, but the Honda Performance Development factory-backed squad is aware the task ahead can't be taken lightly.
To claim the 2010 crown, Highcroft need only to complete 70 percent of the LMP2 class winner's race distance at Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. But with a huge field of 45 cars crammed into the 2.54-mile circuit, keeping out of trouble will be the key target for David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti.
Brabham and Pagenaud currently hold a 16-point advantage over Porsche RS Spyder driver Klaus Graf. The team's championship assault was set up by three consecutive victories earlier this season at Long Beach, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Salt Lake City. Consistency has been the key: The Highcroft team is the only prototype squad to record podium finishes in every race this season.
"We have had a fantastic battle throughout the year and the team has really done an outstanding job," said Brabham. "We've got one more task to do and that is get to Petit Le Mans, where the entire team is looking forward to getting the job done and clinching the title."
The return of Franchitti (in glasses at left, with Pagenaud) – an LMP2 class winner in last year's rain-shortened event – brings added firepower to the Highcroft squad. Franchitti scored the class pole at Sebring and anchored the team's Laguna Seca victory to score his first overall ALMS win earlier this year.
Being classified as a race finisher after 70 percent distance will clinch the driver's, team's, manufacturer's and engine championships for Brabham/Pagenaud, Highcroft, and HPD.
"On a personal level, having won my class at Petit Le Mans last year, it would be great to repeat that again in 2010 with Highcroft Racing," said Franchitti. "That will be our goal this weekend, but we can't lose sight of why we compete and that is to win the championship, and our main aim is to get to 70 percent [distance] and then it is really time to go race. That's what the Highcroft boys did last year and we'll try and do that again this year.
"I really have had a great opportunity both in and out of the car at Highcroft Racing this year, but I have been desperate to get back aboard the car as It has been a long time since Le Mans and I can't wait to get started this week. As a driver, this year has given me the opportunity to take a step back and see every little aspect of how this team operates and learn a lot."
After combining the LMP1 and LMP2 classes for the majority of the season, the prototype classes will again be split at Road Atlanta, with the event also forming part of the newly created ACO Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
"I'm delighted that the car count is up for Petit," Franchitti added. "This is the way these big sports car races should be, with lots of cars in all classes. All that traffic is a great challenge and one that I love."
On-track action for the final round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón Highcroft Racing kicks off on Wednesday afternoon with a 90-minute practice session. Two one-hour practice sessions are scheduled for Thursday followed by a two-hour night session from 7 p.m., where all three drivers must complete three laps in the darkness. Friday's action includes a further one-hour session at 9:30 a.m., with prototype qualifying scheduled for 3:50 p.m.
Raceday on Saturday features a 25-minute warm-up at 9:15am with the green flag flying at 11:30 a.m. Petit Le Mans will be staged over 10 hours or 1000 miles, whichever comes first.