Level 5 Motorsports ended the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season on the top step of the podium, as drivers Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Joao Barbosa scored a dominant victory in the 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda.
Piloting one of the team's two Microsoft Office 2010-sponsored HPD ARX-01g's, both making their debuts in one of the world's toughest endurance races, Tucker, Bouchut and Barbosa stuck to their plan of bringing the new LMP2 car home in one piece. It ended with an impressive sixth place finish overall and class victory after a flawless run in the 1,000-mile marathon. "The competition was real tough today and we knew this was going to be a real big battle for us," said Tucker. "We still have a lot of work to do on the car but we did a great job with it. Joao and Christophe drove a great race. We didn't miss a beat. With the car being just three weeks old and having gone through a six-hour race and now a 1,000-mile race as well with no problems, we're real fortunate with that."
Having started from third position on the grid, four-time national driving champion Tucker put the No. 33 car in an early lead, battling with the Signatech ORECA Nissan throughout his solid opening double-stint. The two teams, locked in the fight for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, enjoyed a spirited fight until the Nissan struck mechanical problems in the fifth hour. With Bouchut and Barbosa putting in consistent stints, most importantly staying out of trouble around the treacherous 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course, the final four and a half hours proved to be clear sailing for the Level 5 team, which took the class victory by a hefty eight lap margin. "We knew coming into this weekend that traffic was going to play a key role," Barbosa said. "We were lucky enough to have a big enough lead that we could manage traffic with enough care. It was about staying out of trouble and that's when we went to the lead and just took our time. We didn't make any mistakes and also didn't take any risks. The car performed perfectly for the entire race. We're really pleased about that."
With its first HPD ARX-01g having only turned its first wheel less than three weeks ago at Laguna Seca, ending the ALMS season with back-to-back victories, as well as becoming a repeat Petit Le Mans winner, came as a huge reward for Level 5, which also scored the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup victory on Saturday.
"In the past, HPD has showed that they could be very fast, competitive and reliable," Bouchut said. "Level 5 put in a great effort to prove that again. It was a big surprise to see us run so strong at Laguna Seca without any problems and we did that again today. It's a great way to end to the ALMS season." Bouchut, who along with Tucker, earned the ALMS LMP2 drivers' championship and also gave the David Stone-led team its second consecutive teams' championship, thanks to five wins this season. Between their ALMS title and Petit Le Mans victory, Level 5 now holds two automatic invitations to next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Tucker enjoyed a particularly successful week, as the now two-time American Le Mans Series champion scored four wins in six races, including victories in both Cooper Tire Prototype Lites races and top honors in the SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series event. Saturday's Petit Le Mans win was Tucker's 64th career victory. Level 5's second Microsoft Office 2010-sponsored car of Tucker, Luis Diaz and Marino Franchitti, which started on pole, overcame an early race turbo failure to finish a respectable fifth in class. Franchitti, who made his team debut, set one of the quickest laps of the race, a 1:13.860 lap time, following the successful repair which got the No. 055 car back on track after a one-hour and 15-minute delay.
"The cars performed well and I'm happy for the entire team on this big win," said team manager David Stone. "It was unfortunate the Signatech Nissan had a problem with their power steering. Everyone would have enjoyed seeing how the fight would have gone until the end. But we all have those issues once in a while. If we didn't lose a turbo in our No. 055 car, we may have had two cars on the podium tonight. "It was great to have won the race with the new chassis and Honda engine, but by the same token, we need to keep pushing," Stone added. "We'll be going to Zhuhai next month with the goal of winning again. I think we finally have the equipment to do that, especially given tonight's result."