Both Honda Performance Development teams in the American Le Mans Series closed in on their respective championships Saturday with victories at Virginia International Raceway. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing won the VIR 240 overall and LMP1 for its sixth victory of the season with drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr; while the Level 5 Motorsports duo of Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker followed up its overall win two weeks ago on the streets of Baltimore with an LMP2 class win in Virginia.
It was a perfect race weekend for Muscle Milk Pickett, as the team set a new outright VIR lap record with its HPD ARX-03a in securing the pole on Friday, with Graf at the wheel around the challenging 17-turn, 3.27-mile road course located in the hill country of southern Virginia.
Saturday’s race saw the Muscle Milk pair lead from start to finish, avoiding issues with slower traffic and including a new race lap record by Luhr, to pull away to a dominating three-lap victory over the Lola-Mazda of Dyson Racing. The team once again claimed the Michelin Green X Challenge, its fourth MGXC award of the year.
The victory also moved the Muscle Milk Pickett team one step closer to the LMP1 championship. Unofficially, the team needs only to complete at least 70 per cent of the race distance at next month’s Petit Le Mans season finale to secure the championship.
In LMP2, it was another exciting race-long battle between the pair of HPD ARX-03bs, against the fast Morgan-Nissan of Conquest Racing, with all three cars leading the race at different points – and all three involved in contact with other cars during the course of the four-hour contest.
At the end, Level 5’s superior pit strategy appeared to make the difference, as the #055 HPD of Christophe Bouchut exited the pits for the final time with a narrow margin over the Morgan of David Heinemeier-Hansson. That proved decisive, as Bouchut skillfully worked his way through the slower GT field to pull away to a 28-second victory and the fifth win of 2012 for Bouchut and team owner/driver Scott Tucker.
The team’s second HPD, driven by Tucker, Ricardo Gonzalez and Luis Diaz, finished third in LMP2 on track, but was later excluded from the results when it failed the post-race “stall test”, as the engine did not shut off when the air intake was sealed.
With one race remaining in the 2012 season, HPD and its partner teams and drivers continue to lead their respective driver, team and manufacturer championships in both LMP1 and LMP2. The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron concludes Saturday, October 20 with the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, near Gainesville, Georgia.
Klaus Graf (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a) started 1st, finished 1st, the team’s sixth race win of 2012; also won the Michelin Green X Challenge for fast, clean and efficient performance for the 4th time this year: \"It was a difficult race to manage from a traffic standpoint. There are certain places [here] where you just can’t get around another car without taking too much risk. So I pushed hard, but at the same time I was conservative with the moves I made in traffic. For us, we had a trouble-free race, which is what we really came here to do. It was a perfect race for Muscle Milk Racing. Now we go back to the shop and prepare [for Petit Le Mans], where [finishing 70 per cent of the race] is not the easiest thing to do. It will be a big team effort.”
Steve Eriksen (Vice President, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s race at Virginia International Raceway: “Congratulations to everyone at both Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports for a near perfect weekend at Virginia International Raceway. It takes a great deal of hard work with long hours of preparation and planning to produce a ‘clean sweep’ weekend like this one, so this is a great reward for the efforts of everyone at HPD and our partner teams. In addition to their dominating weekend, Muscle Milk also won the Michelin Green X Challenge for the fourth time this year, and it is the sixth Green X award for an HPD team in 2012, an accomplishment of which all of us at HPD can be proud. Now, the championships in LMP1 and LMP2 once again come down to the always-challenging Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where HPD certainly has had more than its share of ‘exciting moments’ over the years. But we all look forward to the challenge, and to successfully defending our string of prototype titles.”