David Brabham column
Earlier this week Highcroft Racing announced the conclusion of their relationship with Honda. It’s an announcement that we were all hoping wasn’t going to be needed but it was and it signals the end of a remarkable run of success and achievement by the partnership of Highcroft, HPD and Acura, and Wirth Research.
It was the most successful partnership of all the P1 and P2 programmes and considering Highcroft started as a very new team running against established Indy Car teams, to come out on top of virtually every category from qualifying to race wins to championships is remarkable.
From 11 race wins to back-to-back American Le Mans Series titles in 2009 and 2010, being the highest ALMS point-scoring team out of four factory outfits and taking the Michelin Green X Challenge for optimising overall on-track performance last year as well. The list of achievements is extensive and we can be extremely proud because I know, having been around the sport for quite a while, how difficult all that is to achieve.
For the team to perform at that level so quickly and actually be the team that people looked up and aspired to just shows you the hard work, dedication and talent that Duncan Dayton put together. And hats off to him because he put in a lot of time, money and effort to get the team up and running and he would not stop until he ticked every box on his goal sheet.
When you look at the people involved and the partners, Michelin as well, we had very good people and companies onboard and you need that to get that level of success. From start to finish, the whole programme and certainly Highcroft just kept improving. Last year I thought, wow this team is just so together. They know exactly what they need to do and how they need to do it.
That’s what makes it sad that it’s stopped because I think the team were ready to take that next step but maybe that next step is with someone else. There is no such thing as an end, just a new beginning, and that’s what I think is happening now.
Highcroft’s goal has always been not only to compete at Le Mans but to learn about Le Mans and then go back and win it. Obviously that’s not going to happen this year but that doesn’t mean to say that Highcroft won’t be back with another programme and win the race.
It’s still on Duncan’s radar and it’s one of the few goals he hasn’t achieved, when he’s pretty much ticked off everything else. You’d have to say, if you look at his ability to tick those boxes, you know he’s going to be back even stronger with a new partner.
Duncan’s hell bent on getting back to Le Mans and returning to the American Le Mans Series and he’s talking to several people about programmes. It just so happens that Honda have changed direction on what they are doing and with Highcroft, so they will go their separate ways and each will survive and continue doing good jobs whatever they do.
It’s extremely sad to see what has happened in Japan, particularly being close with Japanese manufacturers as I am at the moment. They have been hit hard and that has a massive impact on their decision making process. Their long term goals have no doubt been dramatically adjusted.
For me, they are still in a state of shock. They will get through it, but they have to deal with a situation they’ve never had to deal with before. It’s obviously a very difficult time but they are a strong people with strong characters and they will find a way of recovering.
My main deal moved away from Highcroft at the beginning of this year as I went off to a new championship and team, the FIA GT1 World Championship with Sumo Power GT. But I was committed to doing Sebring and Le Mans with Highcroft.
The HPD car in Le Mans aero trim at Sebring was remarkable and that’s when we could really see the potential of the car. I didn’t want to look elsewhere for a ‘just in case’ drive, I wanted to put 110% behind Duncan because that’s the situation and car I wanted to race Le Mans with.
When you have been to Le Mans as many times as I have, you know the type of environment you need to do well and certainly Highcroft was in that position. Now that’s not happening, the chances of me finding something suitable is pretty slim so I may miss my first Le Mans in 15 years. That would be a shame after all the success I’ve had there in recent years but it’s not going to be the end of the world – I’ll just keep focussing on winning the GT1 World Championship.
The performance at Sebring was outstanding. Considering the car arrived that week without turning a wheel we had a perfect race. We weren’t the fastest, the diesels were quicker, but with the certain percentage guidelines the HPD car was the only one close enough where they didn’t need to change the rules. Of course, you can see in Europe after Spa and the Le Mans test that they still have too much of an advantage compared to the petrol cars.
If I go to Le Mans now it will only be because an opportunity has come up that offers me the chance to do well there. It’s very late in the day so it’s unlikely and I don’t want to go just for the sake of going. I don’t need to do that. If I go to Le Mans now it would have to be in a situation that has the potential to get me back on the podium.
I’ve been with Highcroft since the start in 2007. I was doing GT stuff and got asked to join the prototype programme, so it was a bit of a lifeline in the sense of getting back to where I wanted to be in prototypes. Not just that, but to be working with Honda, HPD and Wirth Research, with my friend Nick [Wirth], was like a dream come true. I took the opportunity with both hands and did the best possible job I could.
It’s been a lot of fun, enjoyment and hard work. A lot of passion has gone into the last few years. Certainly, from my side to help the development of the programme from the very beginning until the end, being so involved in everything from testing to simulator work, having most of the input and direction with the car and the team.
It’s been fantastic and it certainly helped to raise my game. As everyone was improving so was I and when you’re in that type of environment you just keep getting better. That’s why I look back and know I put 110% in to it and I got a lot back from it.
To achieve what we have in this sport against such tough competition is amazing and I’m extremely proud to be associated with such a great team. I will definitely look back at the period with Highcroft Racing and Honda as one of the highlights of my career.
– Emma Spearing – Photos Brabham
20.05.2011 / MaP