Honda Performance Development-equipped teams swept Saturday’s Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series race at Long Beach, with the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing duo of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr claiming the overall and LMP1 victory in commanding fashion in their HPD ARX-03c Honda. Making just its second start in the prototype ranks, Extreme Speed Motorsports bested fellow HPD team Level 5 Motorsports to finish 1-2 in LMP2 with a pair of HPD ARX-03b Hondas.
Starting third, Luhr quickly passed the Mazda-powered Lola of Chris Dyson, then took advantage of an early full-course caution to make a pit stop and sole driver change, with Luhr handing off driving duties to Graf. When racing resumed, Graf continued to close on the race-leading Toyota Lola of Rebellion Racing until the next round of pit stops at the one-hour mark. Entering the pits together, the Muscle Milk team took the lead with a quick, fuel-only stop, while Rebellion performed a full service and driver change.
Once in front, it was clear sailing for Graf, as he continued to extend his advantage for the remainder of the race, eventually pulling out a lead of more than 36 seconds at the checkers.
The victory was the third consecutive Long Beach “home” victory for California-based Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, and the fourth consecutive American Le Mans Series win for HPD, which is based in nearby Santa Clarita, California.
In LMP2, it was Guy Cosmo and Scott Sharp taking the victory in their HPD ARX-03b, as they were quick to take advantage of problems that struck both entries from defending class winners Level 5 Motorsports. Cosmo moved in front of pole-starting Scott Tucker’s HPD at the 15-minute mark, and continued in the lead until the 40-minute mark, when he handed off to owner/driver Sharp.
A brief delay in re-starting left Sharp second, behind teammate Johannes van Overbeek in the #02 Extreme Speed HPD. But differing fuel strategies soon had Sharp back in the class lead and the series veteran went on to a comfortable, one-lap victory over teammates van Overbeek and Ed Brown.
A series of incidents, including contact and a pit-lane infraction, a delayed both Level 5 HPDs, with the #551 Honda of Ryan Briscoe and Scott Tucker finishing third, while the sister #552 car of Tucker and Marino Franchitti crossed the line fourth after a long pit stop to repair left-front suspension damaged by wall contact.
The American Le Mans Series continues its California swing next month, with the American Le Mans Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway on May 11.
Lucas Luhr (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c) 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Klaus Graf: \"We went down the wrong road [with chassis setup] a little bit on Friday, but within five laps of the race start, we were already running a half-second quicker than in qualifying, so I knew from the start we had a really good car. On the second lap, I passed Chris [Dyson] and I was able to stay with [Rebellion Racing’s Neel] Jani and save fuel. We had our strategy, and the single set of Michelin tires that we used did great. I think overall we did everything well – and had the right strategy. Klaus drove well, as always, and everyone did a heck of a job. That makes it three in a row for us, it’s awesome.”
Scott Sharp (#01 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b) 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Guy Cosmo: \"It feels great! With the strength and experience of Level 5, we thought it would take longer than this [to win]. We really did a great job as a team coming together. The team has been flat out for about two months [since making the late decision to switch from the GT category to LMP2]. We knew as a team it would take a while to figure this car out, and get some testing mileage. It’s great to be back and winning in a prototype car.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s double victory at Long Beach: “The Long Beach event is very much a “home town” race for us, with many of our associates from HPD’s headquarters in Santa Clarita here this weekend with their families and friends. It’s very satisfying to successfully defend both our LMP1 and LMP2 wins here. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing is proving to be the team to beat here at their own home race, and they did a superior job of preparation and execution to score their third consecutive LMP1 victory. Of course, LMP2 this year is an ‘all HPD’ affair, and we look forward to many more exciting races between our teams. Congratulations to Scott Sharp and the entire Extreme Speed team for winning in just their second start in LMP2.”