In a four-hour event that included multiple lead changes and unintentional contact late in the race that helped decide the contest, the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing duo of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf prevailed to win an exciting American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, taking their HPD ARX-03c Honda to the overall and LMP1 victory over the Toyota-powered Lola of Rebellion Racing and drivers Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani.
In addition, Level 5 Motorsports made it a clean prototype sweep for Honda Performance Development-equipped teams in California, claiming a 1-2 finish in LMP2 for drivers Marino Franchitti, Scott Tucker and Ryan Briscoe in their pair of HPD ARX-03b Hondas. This weekend’s victories at Laguna Seca followed wins in April at the Grand Prix of Long Beach for Muscle Milk Pickett and HPD-equipped Extreme Speed Motorsports in the LMP2 category, the second consecutive season that HPD has swept both California rounds of the American Le Mans Series.
Starting third, Graf quickly passed the Mazda-powered Lola of Chris Dyson to move into second behind Rebellion’s Heidfeld, setting up a race-long duel around the hilly, 2.4-mile Laguna circuit. The pair swapped the lead both on track and in pit lane, including a pair of thrilling passes by the Muscle Milk HPD entering the famous Laguna Seca “corkscrew”. The deciding moment came with just over 37 minutes remaining in the contest, when leader Luhr and Rebellion’s Jani, who was just behind, split their way around a slower GTC class Porsche. Luhr passed on the left, and Jani on the right, then the pair made heavy side-to-side contact as they prepared to enter the right-hand Turn 3.
At first, it appeared the Luhr’s HPD had received the brunt of the collision, as he continued in second place with visible damage to the right front fender. But soon it became apparent that Jani had damaged his left front tire, and he was forced to pit for a replacement before continuing to a second-place finish. Now back in the lead, Luhr took the checkers for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s second victory of 2013, an early lead in the LMP1 championship, and his own American Le Mans Series-record 43rd race win.
In LMP2, Level 5 romped to a 1-2 finish in their HPD ARX-03bs after early race problems hobbled the similar cars from Extreme Speed Motorsports. Level 5 owner/driver Tucker started in the team’s #551 HPD, then handed it off to Franchitti, who went on to the win. Briscoe started the team’s #552 HPD, which also enjoyed a trouble-free run to second with Tucker driving the final stint.
A pair of punctures blunted the LMP2 challenge of Extreme Speed’s #01 HPD and starting driver Guy Cosmo, although the team and co-driver Scott Sharp persevered to finish third in class. Teammates Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek battled electrical issues that ended their race after 64 laps.
After a two-race swing through California, the American Le Mans Series has a one-month layoff as several leading teams – including Level 5 – take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The series resumes June 6 with the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.
At Le Mans, HPD will field single-car efforts from World Endurance Championship regulars Strakka Racing in the LMP1 privateer category, and Level 5 in LMP2. The 2013 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place on June 22-23.
Lucas Luhr (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c) 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Klaus Graf: \"In sports car racing, it’s not always about who has the quickest car in perfect conditions, but it’s who has the quickest car under all circumstances – like in traffic. I took a big risk when I had to get by [Rebellion Racing driver Neel Jani], but for me it was clear that was our only chance and I took it. Later on, we had a coming together, but [it was not intentional], it was just an unlucky race situation. I have to pay a big compliment to our team. It’s so comforting to come into the pits and you know not to worry, that the guys will get it done, that the right decisions have been made. As a driver, inside the car you don’t always get the [full] picture and you get fired up. But our engineer Brandon [Fry] is the calmest. He was on the radio and said ‘Don’t worry. We got it buddy’. A big thanks to them; it’s an awesome win.”
Marino Franchitti (#551 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b) 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Scott Tucker:
“It was a perfect weekend and a great way for Level 5 to bounce back after a tough weekend at Long Beach. Especially going into Le Mans, this is what we needed. The guys have been working day and night preparing for this race. Scott [Tucker], myself and Ryan [Briscoe] have worked really hard with the engineers on the setup of the car and I think it showed today.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s double victory at Laguna Seca: “Congratulations to both Muscle Milk Pickett Racing for their exciting overall win at Laguna Seca and to Level 5 for their 1-2 finish in LMP2. LMP1 is proving to be very competitive this year, but we welcome the challenge at HPD and Muscle Milk/Pickett Racing is doing an incredible job. In LMP2, Level 5 had a nearly flawless weekend, although Long Beach winners Extreme Speed encountered issues with tire punctures on one car, while the other suffered a recurring issue in the wiring that the team and HPD will investigate. Level 5 has again demonstrated why it is one of the top teams in LMP2 worldwide, and the team should be well-prepared for next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, as HPD seeks its third class victory in our fourth appearance at this great event.”