Bouchut Sebring race report

Christophe Bouchut press release

Christophe Bouchut, ‘The Artist’, claims another Oscar

#055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b HPD: Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa
#055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b HPD: Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa

Photo by: Richard Sloop

Jean Dujardin was honoured during Hollywood’s Oscars ceremony for his role in a film that paid homage to America’s golden age of silent film. In the same way, Christophe Bouchut loves American motorsport, and it is honouring him too. The French driver added another jewel to his crown during the 12 Hours of Sebring. The nr 055 HPD ARX-03b that he was sharing with Scott Tucker and Joao Barbosa finished 4th overall; leading, all categories combined, the field of 34 cars that were taking part in the American Le Mans Series ! Level 5 Motorsports therefore brilliantly achieved their main objective, which was to win the LMP2 category of this same championship…

The 60th anniversary of the 12 Hours of Sebring was celebrated in style. There was a record entry of 64 teams, the 30 competitors of the new World Endurance Championship sharing the field with those from American Le Mans Series. From the Monday, the leading Endurance teams were busy with the first test sessions. Level 5 Motorsports might have been there with new cars, but stability was already assured thanks to the level of the management, the technical staff and the drivers. If the best LMP2 times set by Christophe during the Winter Tests brought some serenity to the team, no-one was under-estimating the task ahead. The ‘P2’ field is of high quality, thanks to the variety in the kind of chassis present, the diversity of engines and the quality of teams and drivers.

For the drivers of the nr 055 car, there were no particular problems during the week, spent with the usual work of setting up the car. What a contrast with the qualifying session, which quickly turned into a nightmare ! Suddenly, all cameras turned to the first corner, where the Honda Performance Development prototype, driven by Christophe, had violently buried itself in the tyre barriers. “Turn 1 is very bumpy, I was flat out in fifth at 220 km/h and I hit while doing 150” Christophe explained. “I was following another prototype, an LMPC, when the nr 29 Lola came out of the pitlane and cut my line, and when it was in front of me, it put the brakes on! I tried to turn to the left to avoid it, which made me spin and slowed the car somewhat, before I hit the wall backwards. The team acted very positively after this accident. They understood that I could not have done anything else in this situation, and that it was only possible to limit the damage.”

Christophe was sent to the medical centre. “I had still set pole position for the P2 category in the ALMS over two timed laps, while we had planned to do six. The race direction cautioned the Lola, and, during the briefing, told everyone to be careful. The Americans take safety very seriously. They kept me in the medical centre for quite a long time and did not want me to race. At 7 am the next day, an hour before the warm-up, I had a final check-up. But everything was fine, I was in good shape… and the car too, thanks to the fantastic, incredible work from the mechanics, who worked until 4:30 in the morning! My congratulations and thanks to them for their hard work !!”

Thanks to the cushioning effect of the tyre barriers, the crash did not damage the suspension… “The team nevertheless changed the front left as a safety measure. However, there was significant damage to the bodywork, both bonnets, the front splitter, the extractor, the wing…Another problem was that the spin had flat-spotted both tyres, meaning that Scott had to start behind everyone else with a new set of tyres, according to the regulations… With 63 cars at the start, the race was going to be extremely complicated! In the end, it turned out like a dream, although I have to say that some of us had got out our lucky charms…”

Scott Tucker did a few stints and was able to climb back up among the leaders in the category! “He drove for three and a half hours, managing to take the lead at the end of these three stints… it was incredible! With Joao, we then alternated double stints with new tyres at each driver change. I always finished my stint in the lead of the category. Each time, I pulled away but lost my advantage each time the safety car came out. We could have claimed the overall victory in P2, WEC and ALMS combined, but the team reminded us that we were aiming first and foremost for the ALMS title. There was no point in taking unnecessary risks, especially as the team’s second car had retired earlier after a collision with a GT car. Therefore we did not change the driver rotation plan set previously, or used softer tyres which could have allowed us to beat all the P2 cars in the World Endurance Championship and to finish on the overall podium.”

Despite his problems in qualifying, Christophe therefore will have some excellent memories of this trip to Florida. “It is my best result in this difficult event. Sometimes it was very close, but we didn’t put a wheel wrong or have the slightest contact. We have achieved our goal, and the team is satisfied. We got pole position and the win in ALMS P2, and we are leading the championship. This fourth place overall, ahead of all the other ALMS cars, is the cherry on the cake, especially knowing that the cars ahead of us include the two factory Audi cars… In 2011, the best P2 car finished in 20th position, which shows how the level has improved this year. Personally, I was extremely touched at the end, when the mechanics gave me one-dollar bill that they had signed and stuck inside the door before the start, to bring us luck.”

The second round of the American Le Mans Series will be on the west coast on April 13th and 14th: « Long Beach is the Monaco of America. I really like this circuit, where I took pole position the last two years, first in LMPC and then in P2. The circuit is challenging, some corners, like the nr 3, are so tight that you ask yourself if the car is not wider than the track. There is also a straight with a wall in front at the end of a minimal run-off area… the meeting includes ALMS and Indycar, but it is not like F1, we are treated equally. The Level 5 machine is running now, the season is looking good, but other cars will be joining the P2 category soon, like Patrick Dempsey’s Lola. So we can’t relax yet! »

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Series ALMS
Tags bouchut, hpd, level 5, tucker

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