A decision by a race official to impose a 'bogus' penalty on the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura LMP1 prototype of David Brabham and his American driving partner Scott Sharp has cost the combo a likely victory in the American Le Mans Series round on the streets of Long Beach.
Sharp, who started from pole, had relinquished the lead and then won it back and was controlling the race when he pitted to hand over to Brabham. It was here that an IMSA official imposed a 20sec penalty at the mid-race pitstop - alleging a Patrón Highcroft Racing fire extinguisher crew member was not wearing an appropriate helmet.
The penalty - which actually kept the car stationary for 24 seconds - was applied even though the helmet has passed tech scrutineering at every ALMS event and was the same helmet used by the team since the commencement of the Acura program in 2007.
A fired-up Brabham set about reducing the deficit and shrunk the margin to the ultimate winning duo of Gil de Ferran/Simon Pagenaud in an identical Acura to six seconds
"The penalty completely changed the whole race," Brabham said afterwards. "The cars are so evenly matched that you can't afford to sit in the pit lane for that long and still challenge for the win.
"The de Ferran guys have been waiting a long time to win, so congratulations to them. We still got great points for our championship so that is good and we move on to the next race."
Sharp was less diplomatic, describing the penalty as "bogus".
The team has appealed the penalty and is awaiting a decision by race officials.
Despite the disappointment, Patrón Highcroft Racing retains a 21-point lead in the LMP1 championship.