Every racing fan has a time, or a season, or just a time, when they realize they are experiencing something very special. As a professional motorsport photographer, I had the privilege of capturing two of those golden moments on one of the most photogenic circuits in the world: Lime Rock Park.
When Mario Andretti won his Formula 1 World Championship I was a teenager and had never attended a race in person. Watching Andretti drive the magnificent Lotus 79 to its world title captured my imagination and fueled my passion for the sport. I did not know then that I would have my own personal experience with this magnificent racing car.
In my career, the first twelve years of this century have been very special for sports car racing. Audi, Peugeot, Bentley and Toyota have driven factory LMP1 prototypes on the world stage. They have brought these efforts to North America, whether for full or one-off seasons to compete with the LMP2 prototype programs supported by Porsche and Acura.
One of the peaks of this era was at Lime Rock Park in July 2008 during the Northeast Grand Prix. The powerful Audi Sport North America and Penske Porsche teams had each won two of the season’s first four rounds, but the race at Lime Rock Park would drastically change that trend.
If there has ever been a racing team with an advantage on the home circuit, then Highcroft Racing had one at Lime Rock Park. Highcroft campaigned for an Acura ARX-01b LMP2 prototype. It was one of the four Acura teams in the ALMS, arguably the least known and the one with the lowest expectations when the manufacturer’s program was introduced the previous season.
The team belonged to Duncan Dayton. A businessman and racer with a passion for the history of motorsport, he was determined to prove that his small business belonged to the big leagues. The team was based in Danbury, Connecticut. His crew had years of experience racing and designing a variety of cars at Lime Rock. He met his future wife on the track. The local knowledge was vast and the momentum was strong.
Plus, the Highcroft riders had a history on the track. Scott Sharp captured his first SCCA victory at Lime Rock in 1985. His father, Bob, was the legendary SCCA racer, mentor and teammate of Paul Newman.
David Brabham was the team’s main driver. He was the son of three-time F1 world champion Jack Brabham and brother of Geoff, who won several wins at Lime Rock with the Nissan factory team in the late 1980s. David took pole ahead of Simon Pagenaud to form a 100% Acura first line. However, at the start, Audi and Porsche cars made their way to the front of the peloton and stayed there for most of the race.
Sharp started the race and kept the car in contention. After handing the car over to Brabham, the magic began.
With 15 minutes remaining, Brabham was eight seconds behind Timo Bernhard at the wheel of the Porsche Penske. On each lap, the Highcroft pilot closed the gap. He was five seconds late with ten minutes left. And with just 90 seconds remaining in the race, Brabham took the lead with a daring outside pass at Turn 1.
The home side had a tremendous home victory at Lime Rock Park. This gave Acura its first overall victory in the America Le Mans Series against much more experienced and well-funded teams. History was written that summer day at Lime Rock Park. And as a photographer for the Highcroft team, I was able to capture those moments.
A few years after this tremendous victory, I was back in Lime Rock Park photographing David Brabham behind the wheel of a bit of history.
Dayton’s passion for motorsport includes owning and racing cars with important stories, including the Lotus 79 which 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 Australian F1 world champion driving the car driven by the last American F1 title holder – one golden age overlapping another.
Creating memorable motorsport images is all about preparation. The photo of Brabham celebrating the victory meant being suspended in the Highcroft pits two laps before the end of the race and being with the crew as they swarmed the winning car. Standing in front of the nose of the car gave me the best opportunity to cover the direction the driver was looking at when he raised his arms in triumph.
David Brabham driving the Lotus 79 took a bit more work. This image was taken with a camera attached with a specially designed large suction cup at the top of the pontoon. Helicopter tape was placed under the suction cup to protect the paint. An extreme wide-angle lens was needed and a radio triggered the camera remotely. The results speak for themselves.
And that’s the beauty of Lime Rock Park. A racing circuit also capable of hosting modern sports car events such as the North East Grand Prix and celebrating the glories of the past with the historic festival over the 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 on this magnificent circuit.