After four hours of racing around the classic, four-mile Road America road course, the finish of Saturday’s Road Racing Classic came down to the final four corners, with multiple lead changes leading to a final charge to the checkered flags, where the Honda Performance Development ARX-03a of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing came up just 83 0ne-thousandths of a second short of a sixth consecutive American Le Mans Series victory.
After qualifying on the pole and building an impressive early-race lead of nearly a minute, a broken clamp and resulting water leak led to a long pit stop for repairs for the Muscle Milk Pickett team, which eventually resumed the race four laps behind the leading Dyson Racing team of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, with just over three hours remaining in the four-hour contest.
It appeared an impossible deficit to overcome, but the team combined perfect pit strategy, two well-timed full-course cautions, and lap-record pace driving from Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr to steadily erode the leaders’ margin. At the two-hour mark, two laps had been made up, as starting driver Graf handed off to Luhr, who would drive the remainder of the race.
With just over 40 minutes remaining, Luhr was back on the lead lap, but nearly a full lap behind Smith’s Lola-Mazda. Despite contending with lapped cars and slower traffic, Luhr continued to close on Graf and was just three-tenths of a second behind as the pair started their final lap. Luhr made several passing attempts, briefly taking the lead entering the final corner, but Smith was better positioned for the final run to the finish line to take the closest overall victory in American Le Mans Series history.
In LMP2, the two-car HPD-equipped Level 5 Motorsports team with drivers Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz resumed its season-long battle with the Conquest Endurance Racing Morgan Nissan of Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier Hansson, with all three taking turns at the front of the field as they battled for the class victory.
But an unscheduled late-race pit stop by Bouchut, to repair left-rear suspension damage that most likely was the result of contact with another car earlier in the race, dropped the #055 HPD ARX-03b of Bouchut and Tucker to a third-place LMP2 finish. The team’s #95 entry of Diaz and Tucker was also brought to the pits for a precautionary suspension inspection, and finished fourth in LMP2.
With just three races remaining in the 10-race 2012 season, HPD and its partner teams and drivers continue to lead their respective championships. In LMP1, Graf and Luhr hold a 12-point lead over the Dyson Racing duo of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith; while in LMP2, Bouchut and Tucker own a five-point lead over Hansson and Plowman.
Having completed its annual Midwest swing, the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron now heads to the East Coast for the Sept. 1 Grand Prix of Baltimore, the final street-circuit event of the 2012 season.
Lucas Luhr (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a) started 1st, finished 2nd, recovered from a four-lap deficit in the closest overall finish in American Le Mans Series history: \"Once again our HPD ARX-03a was super, super quick and Klaus [Graf, co-driver] did a brilliant job at the beginning. But it\'s just a little frustrating because we are all working so hard and to have a small piece fail like that and cost us a possible victory is disappointing. That said, coming back from four laps down here at Road America is just unreal, we did it at Lime Rock but this track is the longest on the schedule, it\'s unbelievable! The perfect story would have been to win the race but I have to congratulate Dyson Racing. Guy Smith drove very well at the end and defended his position well. I tried to make a move in Canada Corner but that didn\'t work out and then I made a move in the last corner but I was so late on the brakes I couldn\'t get the car to rotate. However, considering that we came back from four laps down, it\'s a very good result and ‘thank you’ to the crew for getting us back out there. That was very important. We\'ve had a good season so far with five wins in a row and now a second place. We couldn\'t really ask for more.\"
Allen Miller (Principal Engineer and Large Project Leader, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s race at Road America: “While the outcome was certainly disappointing for HPD and our teams, it was an awesome race and we’re really proud of the effort put forth by Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. To come back from a four-lap deficit around this place is an incredible achievement. It was a great job by everyone on the team: the mechanics who repaired the car under difficult conditions, perfect strategy calls by the engineers and a fantastic performance from both drivers. Second feels like a poor reward for their efforts, but the fans certainly saw an incredible show. Level 5 Motorsports also had a strong run today, and it’s unfortunate that a late-race problem, apparently the result of contact early in the race, ended their chance for victory.”