by Richard Dole
Every race fan has an era, or season, or simply a moment, when they realize they are experiencing something extra special. As a professional motorsports photographer, I’ve had the privilege of capturing two of these golden moments at one of the most photogenic racetracks around: Lime Rock Park.
When Mario Andretti was winning his Formula 1 World Championship, I was a teenager and had never been to a race in person. Watching Andretti drive the magnificent Lotus 79 to his world title captured my imagination and fueled my passion for the sport. Little did I know then that I would have my own personal experience with this magnificent racecar.
In my career, the first dozen years of this century were extra special for sports car racing. Audi, Peugeot, Bentley and Toyota raced factory-backed LMP1 prototypes on the world stage. They brought those efforts to North America, either for full-seasons or one-offs to compete against Porsche and Acura’s factory-supported LMP2 prototype programs.
One of the pinnacles of this era took place at Lime Rock Park in July, 2008 during the Northeast Grand Prix. The powerhouse teams of Audi Sport North America and Penske Porsche had each won two of the first four rounds of the season, but the race at Lime Rock Park would dramatically change that trend.
If there was ever such a thing as a racing team having a home circuit advantage, then Highcroft Racing had one at Lime Rock Park. Highcroft campaigned an Acura ARX-01b LMP2 prototype. It was one of four Acura teams in the ALMS, arguably the least known and had the lowest expectations when the manufacturer program was introduced the previous season.
The team was owned by Duncan Dayton. A businessman and racer with a passion for the history of motorsports, he was determined to prove his small operation belonged in the big leagues. The team was based in Danbury, CT. His crew had years of experience racing and engineering a variety of cars at Lime Rock. He met his future wife at the track. The local knowledge was extensive and the momentum was strong.
In addition, the Highcroft drivers had history at the track. Scott Sharp captured his first SCCA victory at Lime Rock in 1985. His father, Bob, was the legendary SCCA racer and mentor and teammate to Paul Newman.
David Brabham was the lead driver of the squad. The son of 3-time F1 World Champion Jack Brabham, and brother of Geoff who won several times at Lime Rock with the factory Nissan team in the late 1980s. David captured the pole ahead of Simon Pagenaud to form an all-Acura front row. However, at the start, the Audi and Porsche cars muscled their way to the front of the pack and stayed there for most of the race.
Sharp started the race and kept the car in contention. After he handed the car off to Brabham, the magic started.
With 15 minutes remaining Brabham was 8 seconds behind Timo Bernhard driving the Penske Porsche. Each lap the Highcroft driver closed the gap. He was 5 seconds behind with 10 minutes to go. And with only 90 seconds remaining in the race, Brabham took the lead with a bold outside pass at Turn 1.
The local team scored a tremendous home victory at Lime Rock Park. It gave Acura their first overall victory in the America Le Mans Series against the far more experienced and well-funded teams. History was made on that summer’s day at Lime Rock Park. And as the Highcroft team photographer, I was able to capture those moments.
A couple years after this tremendous victory, I was back at Lime Rock Park photographing David Brabham driving a bit of history.
Duncan Dayton’s passion for motorsports includes owning and racing cars with significant histories, including the Lotus 79 that propelled Andretti to his F1 title. He offered David Brabham the chance to drive the Lotus 79 at Lime Rock. I was there to document the day. And what a day it was: The son of a multiple F1 world champion from Australia driving the car which was driven by the last American F1 title holder – one golden age overlapping another.
Creating memorable motorsports images is all about preparation. The shot of Brabham celebrating the victory meant hanging in the Highcroft pits 2 laps before the end of the race and being with the crew when they swarmed the winning car. Standing at the car’s nose gave me the best opportunity to cover whichever way the driver looked when he rose his arms in triumph.
David Brabham driving the Lotus 79 took quite a bit more work. This image was shot with a camera attached with a large, purpose built suction cup to the top of the sidepod. Helicopter tape was placed under the suction cup to protect the paint. An extreme wide-angle lens was required, and a radio triggered the camera remotely. The results speak for themselves.
And this is the beauty of Lime Rock Park. A racing circuit equally capable of hosting modern day sports car events such as the Northeast Grand Prix and celebrating past glories with Historic Festival during Labor Day weekend.
I have photographed racing events at Lime Rock Park for decades. These two days remain the most memorable of all the days I have spent at this wonderful circuit.