Honda Performance Development and its partner teams began their defense of multiple American Le Mans Series championships Saturday at the 12 Hours of Sebring, scoring a commanding 1-2 finish in the LMP2 class for Level 5 Motorsports, a fight-from-behind effort from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in LMP1 and a promising debut in LMP2 from Extreme Speed Motorsports.
The Level 5 trio of Ryan Briscoe, Marino Franchitti and Scott Tucker brought their HPD ARX-03b Honda home first in LMP2, and sixth overall, after besting challenges from their own teammates, in an HPD ARX-03b co-driven by IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Tucker (who drove both Level 5 entries); the Zytek Nissan of Greaves Motorsport; and an HPD ARX-03b, fielded by class newcomer Extreme Speed Motorsports.
After 12 hours of racing around the historic Sebring airport circuit, the Briscoe/Franchitti/Tucker HPD took the checkers one lap ahead of teammates Hunter-Reay/Pagenaud/Tucker, with the Greaves entry of Tom Kimber-Smith, Eric Lux and Christian Zugel another three laps further back, in third.
In LMP1, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas had to fight back after a series of setbacks, including a lost front wheel after an early-race pit stop, and two penalties for “avoidable contact”, to finish fourth overall.
Although the factory-entered Audi coupes were alone at the front of the field, the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03c battled the Lola Toyotas of expected season-long rivals Rebellion Racing throughout the 12 hours, catching and passing one of the Rebellion entries for the final time as the race entered its ninth hour, and ending up less than one lap short of catching the lead Rebellion car for the final step on the podium.
Extreme Speed Motorsports has made the switch from the GT category to LMP2 for 2013, and briefly led the class in the HPD ARX-03b of David Brabham, Guy Cosmo and Scott Sharp. However, a broken input shaft just after the six-hour mark sent the ESM car behind the wall for nearly two hours for repairs. The trio returned for the final four and a half hours to finishe fifth in LMP2, behind fourth-place LMP2 teammates Ed Brown/Anthony Lazzaro/Johannes van Overbeek is the second ESM entry.
Today’s 61st running of the 12 Hours of Sebring opened the 2013 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron season. Honda Performance Development and its partner teams will return to defend their 2012 LMP1 and LMP2 titles at the April 20 Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Marino Franchitti (driver, #551 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b) 1st in LMP2 with co-drivers Ryan Briscoe and Scott Tucker: \"This has been a huge week for us. My darling wife Holly presented us with baby Luca last weekend, and now my first Sebring victory. Both cars were fantastic, and hats off to Scott [Tucker], the entire Level 5 team, HPD and Honda for the incredible effort it took today. I’ve finished second here three times, and to finally get a win is delightful!”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring: “It was a successful start to the defense of our 2012 LMP1 and LMP2 chassis and engine manufacturers’ championships. It is great to see the improvements that have been made to our engines and chassis during the off-season come to life on the race track. Congratulations to Scott Tucker and the entire Level 5 organization for a very impressive 1-2 finish here tonight as they seek a repeat of the team and drivers’ titles. Greg Pickett and his Muscle Milk team have a never-say-die attitude, which is what won the LMP1 championship for them last year. There is more competition in LMP1 this season with Rebellion Racing, but the Muscle Milk Pickett team is up to the challenge. Finally, it was a most impressive debut for Scott Sharp and his Extreme Speed Motorsports team, leading the 12 Hours of Sebring in their first attempt in LMP2. We expect to see more good things from them as the season continues.”