Honda Performance Development chassis and Honda engines swept the top five finishing positions Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing continued to reign supreme in the 2013 American Le Mans Series; while Level 5 Motorsports edged fellow HPD-equipped team Extreme Speed Motorsports for LMP2 honors in the two-hour, 45-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.
The overall win for Muscle Milk Pickett was the fourth consecutive LMP1 victory for the team in five races this year, a streak that began at the Grand Prix of Long Beach in April. It also was the fourth consecutive win at the track formerly known as Mosport for the HPD ARX-03c Honda team, at an event which once again fell on the respective birthdays of winning drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr.
The pole qualifying Muscle Milk HPD dominated the 32-car field, with starting driver Graf quickly establishing his superiority and building an advantage before handing off to co-driver Luhr at the second and final pit stop. By then, Muscle Milk had a three-lap lead over the field, and a massive five-lap lead over its nearest LMP1 challenger. Luhr continued to extend that advantage to score his record-extending 45th career American Le Mans Series victory, and the 18th for co-driver Graf.
In the companion LMP2 category, it was another close-fought battle between the two-car teams of Level 5 Motorsports and Extreme Speed Motorsports, both utilizing turbocharged V6-powered HPD ARX-03b Hondas. A strategic decision by the Level 5 team, bringing in third-running Marino Franchitti for a fresh set of Michelin tires during a final-hour caution period, proved to be the difference.
The additional stop cost Franchitti track position, but equipped with the newer tires, he was turning the fastest LMP2 lap times of the race, and quickly closed on Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed HPD for second place, making an outside pass in the fast right-hand Turn 8 to take the position with just over 20 minutes remaining in the contest. Almost immediately afterward, Franchitti passed teammate Scott Tucker for the lead coming on to the start/finish straight.
Sharp also was soon past Tucker, and battled with Franchitti throughout the closing laps, as both worked their way through GT traffic. With just one lap remaining, the pair ran nose-to-tail in search of the class victory, but Franchitti sliced through lapped traffic while also staying just ahead of overall leader Luhr to take his third LMP2 victory of the season and extend his lead in the drivers’ championship.
Sharp’s second-place finish keeps both him and co-driver Cosmo in the thick of the LMP2 drivers’ championship battle after five of 10 rounds in 2013. Their Extreme Sports teammates, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek, completed a drama-free run Sunday to finish fourth in LMP2, fifth overall.
Tucker again drove both Level 5 HPDs, starting in the winning #551 and finishing the race in the #552 machine that was qualified on the pole by replacement driver Mike Conway. Conway joined the Level 5 team when regular driver Ryan Briscoe was sidelined with a broken wrist sustained in a crash last week at the Honda Indy Toronto.
HPD, the most successful competitor in the LMP Green X Challenge since the award for “fast, clean and efficient” performance was established in 2008, received a record-extending 21st prototype Green X Challenge award today. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing claimed Green X prototype honors after a race-winning performance, combined with just two minutes, one-second of pit time, which also led the field.
The 2013 American Le Mans Series continues next month with the Orion Energy Systems 245, August 9-11 at the four-mile Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This will be a double-header weekend with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, as the two North American endurance racing series continue preparations before merging into the United SportsCar Racing championship in 2014.
Klaus Graf (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c Honda) 1st overall and in LMP1 with co-driver Lucas Luhr; 4th consecutive win for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and 4th consecutive victory this season: \"We had a really, really good car today. The team prepared a great car and it was very strong from the beginning. I had a good start and was able to build a lead right away. After that, I just tried to maintain my speed and make sure I made no mistakes. You have to be careful with how you overtake here. Managing the traffic was my biggest task today. To win here four times is very special. I really like this place. Every year, Lucas [Luhr] and I pretty much celebrate our birthdays here, and every year we get pole position and win the race. It’s not bad!”
Marino Franchitti (#551 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b Honda) 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Scott Tucker: “All credit to the Level 5 guys, I think we had the right pit stop strategy, and that put us in position to win today. It was a great battle out there; the Extreme Speed guys ran us really hard. Even after I got around Scott [Sharp], he never gave up and battled us right to the final corner of the race. It was close, but we managed to hold on. This is one of my favorite circuits, and to win here after such a good race just makes it all the more special.”
Scott Sharp (#01 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b Honda) 2nd in LMP2 on track with co-driver Guy Cosmo: “Unfortunately, we got the short end of the stick in traffic today. I think we ended up having one of the quickest cars out there, but another [lapped] car was holding me up somewhere between one to two seconds every lap [while] I would watch Marino [Franchitti] sprint away. We had a really good car and the competition was lean on fuel, so a few more minutes in the race might have helped. It would have been nice to have a couple more laps!”
Steve Eriksen (Vice President and COO, Honda Performance Development) on Sunday’s double victory at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park: “Congratulations to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing on another overall win in Canada and to drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf. What a great way for both to celebrate their birthdays! Our LMP2 teams, Level 5 and Extreme Speed Motorsports, once again put on an exciting battle for class honors, these teams are making LMP2 an exciting, season-long contest in 2013. It was great to see all the improvements that have been made to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and we were very pleased to see how well our teams, the ARX chassis and the Honda engines performed at this challenging circuit.”