Honda Performance Development wrapped up an outstanding season of American Le Mans Series competition Saturday at the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, finishing first and third in LMP2; and claiming both the LMP1 and LMP2 class championships in the 1,000-mile endurance race.
In LMP1, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas overcame an early-race collision with a GTC-category Porsche 911 to lay claim to their own set of American Le Mans Series championships.
Level 5’s triumph marked the 50th victory for HPD’s ARX family of sports-prototype chassis since the debut of the original ARX-01a – a class win combined with a second-place overall finish – at the 2007 12 Hours of Sebring. It also was the 17th win of the 2012 season for HPD’s ARX chassis in both the American Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Saturday’s twin American Le Mans Series manufacturer championships are the fifth and sixth for the ARX chassis line, and come one week after HPD won the WEC LMP2 title in Fuji, Japan, the first World Championship for the company since it was founded in 1993.
Previously, HPD won American Le Mans Series LMP1 and LMP2 manufacturer titles in 2009; and the combined LMP category in 2010. HPD also won LMP2 engine manufacturer championship honors in 2011.
In addition, the year-long Michelin Green X Challenge, for going the furthest while using the least fuel, was won by the Muscle Milk Pickett team, which collected four individual Green X challenge awards this year, at Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Mosport and Virginia International Raceway. Level 5 Motorsports made it a 1-2 result for HPD in the Green X Challenge by claiming the honor at three races this year: Sebring, Baltimore and today’s Petit Le Mans. HPD teams also won the Green X Challenge in both 2009 and 2010.
The 10th and final race of the 2012 American Le Mans Series season got off to an exciting start, as Luhr in his ARX-03a battled hard in the early laps with the pole-starting Lola Toyota of Rebellion Racing, driven by Neel Jani. The pair ran nose-to-tail for the first hour, rapidly pulling away from the rest of the 37-car starting field.
But contact with a slower car while exiting Turn One sent Luhr’s ARX-03a hard into the barriers, delaying the car for nearly an hour while it was towed back to the paddock and extensive repairs were completed. While the Rebellion Lola would go on to record its first LMP1 overall victory, the Muscle Milk team returned to battle for the final class podium positions with the two Lola Mazdas of Dyson Racing, both of which had been delayed by mechanical issues. As the race entered its final stages, it appeared as if the Muscle Milk team would hold on to second place in LMP1, but a late-race stop to replace a damaged rear suspension pushrod dropped Luhr, Graf and Dumas to third in LMP1, 34th overall – but still more than sufficient to sweep the LMP1 titles.
In LMP2, Level 5 covered its bets by setting the car of Dario and Marino Franchitti, along with Tucker, off to challenge for the class victory, while the team car of Bouchut, Tucker and Diaz ran a more conservative pace, as completing 70 percent of the overall race distance would earn them the class championships. Once that milestone was achieved, both Level 5 entries became class contenders.
A series of penalties for the Franchitti/Tucker entry, including avoidable contact and passing under caution, dropped it from the lead lap, but the second Level 5 team then came through for the victory, taking advantage to a late-race cut tire and pit-lane speeding penalty for Conquest Racing to finish first in LMP2. Meanwhile, Marino Franchitti thrilled the large crowd at Road Atlanta with a relentless charge in the final 30 minutes to claim second in LMP2 – and third overall – after catching and passing the Oreca Nissan of leading European Le Mans team Thiret by TDS Racing on the final lap.
Today’s Petit Le Mans concluded the 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron season. Honda Performance Development and its partner teams will return to defend their sports prototype championships in 2013, starting with the 61st running of the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16.
Greg Pickett (owner, #6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a) started 1st, finished 3rd in LMP1 to claim the class team and drivers’ championships, with HPD winning the LMP1 chassis and engine manufacturer titles; first title for team owner Greg Pickett since he won the SCCA Trans-Am championship in 1978: "This feels great. Winning the championship is a goal we set for the organization last year after this race. The team fought really hard today, the drivers have done a great job all year long and we couldn't have done this without the help of our partners HPD and Michelin. Today, it was about perseverance. We were more than just a race team, we were a championship-winning race team because the guys did it like champions and I respect that a lot. I'm very proud of them. I'm already looking forward to Sebring and the start of the 2013 season. We don't want this to be a one-time deal."
Scott Tucker (owner/driver, #95 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b) 2nd overall and 1st in LMP2 with co-driver Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz, also credited with 3rd in LMP2 co-driving with Dario and Marino Franchitti; Level 5 also won the Michelin Green X Challenge for fast, clean and efficient performance for the 3rd time this year: "We knew it would be a tight, difficult race. Conquest [Racing] are great competitors, we knew [completing] 70 per cent [of the overall race distance to clinch the championship] would be no easy task. My hat’s off to my teammates here [Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz]. What a great day for us. I’ll let it soak in. I’m really proud of the effort of the team and the drivers. I was just talking to Martin [Plowman, Conquest Racing driver] and we agreed – some of the best European teams came over for this event, and we proved we are as good or better.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on Saturday’s Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta: “What a fantastic day, and one that caps our most successful season ever in sports-car racing on a world-wide stage: two more North American titles to go with our first world championship; repeat LMP2 victories at Sebring and Le Mans; and 17 wins this season to bring our victory total for the ARX chassis to 50. It’s just been an incredible year for HPD in sports-car racing. In the last week alone, we’ve clinched three manufacturer titles for the ARX to double our championship total! There’s no doubt that the ARX has proven to be an outstanding line of race cars. Congratulations to everyone at both Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports for a near-perfect season in 2012, culminating in well-earned championships for both. At HPD, we all realize the incredible level of hard work, with long hours of preparation, that are required to produce seasons like this one, so these championships are a great reward for the efforts of everyone at HPD, our technical partner Wirth Research, and all of our partner teams in both the American Le Mans Series and World Endurance Championship. In addition, Level 5 won the Michelin Green X Challenge for the third time this year, and it is the seventh Green X award for an HPD team in 2012, an accomplishment of which we all can be proud.”