The consistently excellent Muscle Milk Pickett Racing number 6 HPD ARX-03a Honda P1 with Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won a decisive victory at the six hour endurance contest at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The third round of the American Le Mans Series race in Monterey, California was more like a sprint race as the action was only slowed down by caution periods, and yet Graf and Luhr lapped the entire field at least three times to take a decisive victory.
Second overall was the P2 number 95 car driven by Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz and Franck Montagny in the Level 5 Motorsport HPD ARX-03b Honda entry. Third overall was the Prototype Challenge number 05 car featuring Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun in the CORE autosport Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet; it was their maiden victory.
It was very important for the whole team and our motivation...
Luhr and Graf were able to build their lead, and when the Dyson team ended up making a lengthy repair, it was a walkaway victory for the Muscle Milk team. "The HPD cars have won a lot here, so it looks like we finally got a good package to win, we've never won here before. We had to keep pushing to keep your rhythm. We approach it in different ways to go through the traffic, maybe a little conservative, but the car itself we pushed really hard," Graf said.
Luhr who set the fastest lap in the six hour race commented, “It was a good race for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing especially now that we have two wins in California in front of our home crowd. It was very important for the whole team and our motivation. It was very nice. There were so many friends and family of the Pickets’ here to support us. We can show them two back-to-back victories.”
The only other competitor in the P1 class, the Dyson Racing Team’s number 16 Lola Mazda, finished a distant 20 laps behind the Muscle Milk HPD. Drivers Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Johnny Mowlem had grip issues, but a loss of time was spent by the team in the garage fixing the front diffuser, which was damaged by debris, and of course affected the cooling system. Despite the setback, they still captured second in points for the season long title fight.
"I am happy for Mazda and AER to get another solid six hour finish with no reliability problems. We will take the points and go to Lime Rock only four points down in the championship," said Dyson.
Tucker’s Level 5 Motorsports were celebrating, not only their P2 class win, but the fact they were second overall. Joining Tucker on the podium was his two co-drivers Diaz and Montagny.
“The team is very prepared to fight for overalls; the P1s are a bit quicker in the straights to be fighting with them. Our goal is to develop race by race. It is nice to be on a team with a leader like Scott who pushes us to the limit and to be a better team. On another track, like a little one, like Lime Rock, it could be a place we could get an overall win,” smiled Diaz.
Over the years, the team owner has driven two cars in ALMS competition, jumping out of one into another cockpit, and this weekend Montagny did the same. However in the number 055 HPD, Montagny ended up in the garage so the team could repair the damaged prototype.” To be honest, in the 055 car, I didn't see it coming. I was just following Scott, I overtook a beautiful gold car and he hit me in the rear, then I was in the wall, and I was not so happy. Especially for a team like this, you don't feel good when things like that happen. But the team worked hard and put it back together and got it back on the track. They still finished P3 so they are happy,” he explained.
After a race long battle by all of the manufacturers in the GT class, the Corvette Racing team ended 1-2 with the number 4 Corvette C6-ZR1 of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner taking the win. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia had to settle for second in the number 3 Corvette.
“The car really was one of the best race cars I've ever had. I knew it would be tough to make it back to the front there. From first on back to 6th the cars were so competitive. Passing is pretty difficult and I knew I had to bide my time, be careful in many situations. I had a few close calls and a little contact, but beyond that we got up to 3rd or 4th and gave it over to Oliver and he took it to the finish,” said Milner.
The final laps in the GT class grabbed the attention of the fans and their teams with the on-track battle between Corvette and BMW. Prior to those two stretching out a slight lead, Ferrari and Porsche teams were within striking distance. There was at times minor contact but more of a friendly battle for the podium, and not a purposeful put someone out of the race fight. The GT drivers gave all they had to the point they showed their exhaustion even when celebrating.
Gavin knew that any caution would pack the GT field up again and he said after the race: “I kept thinking, I brought that gap up, and it all gets taken away. But that is racing, the circuit here is tough, if you run off, you get in the sand. With guys with a bit less experience guys will go off and drag it back on, causing some guys to go off there. It was so tight in our class; you could never let off and think 'I'm alright now'. I managed to sneak by a lot of people, but we managed to catch all the breaks. Then I'd be able to get a bit of a gap. It was a great race for me today.”
Placing third and fourth were the two BMW Team RLL M3s. Jorge Muller and Bill Auberlen put pressure on Magnussen but were just short of taking second; they settled for third. Joey Hand and Dirk Muller ended fourth.
As mentioned earlier, the Prototype Challenge class winning team was third overall. It was the first ALMS win for Braun, who is contesting the full-season in the series with the CORE autosport Oreca team. He had the final stint and was chasing down the then-leader Bruno Junqueira in the RSR Racing Oreca.
“Core put together a great group of guys. Especially with the season they had last season. The last few laps was exciting. I was racing Bruno, and I knew I had to push really hard. I knew I had to set him up in traffic and that was going to be the only way I could get by. He went one way, and I went the other and it turned out right for me. I would say the race 'magically came to us',” said Braun who took the lead on the penultimate lap.
“I knew I was going to find a way around Bruno, somehow. It was John's birthday a few days ago; he got off the plane and said 'we are going to win this someway'. So I thought I'd have to find a way by. I'm thankful that is all worked out and we're still all on the podium,” added Braun.
Bennett was also ecstatic on his first ALMS victory and he commented, “Fairly speechless to be honest. It’s been a long time getting here. I'm honored and proud to be part of Core Autosport. It's been spectacular in the short time we've been together. I was impressed with Colin, we did some karting together, and I knew it would be a great season. He put on the move of the race in the last few laps for the win. Wow. It was awesome.”
Emilio Di Guida, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Bret Curtis captured the GT Challenge win in the number 66 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. “This is getting harder and harder to win. You are getting a lot more cars out there with experience and a lot of great drivers. We didn't have a lot of mistakes from the drivers and the teams, so it was just a good win and just great,” said Bleekemolen.
Taking his first ever ALMS win, Di Guida said, “Really for me, traffic is really tough. I don't have as much experience as these guys. I am happy to have these two team mates. It was a new experience and challenge, I am so happy. This is just my 5th race so first place is amazing”
Also earning a first series victory was Curtis who commented, “The thing about Kevin Buckler and TRG is he wants you to push, but he also paces out the car. The strategy was really good, everyone was putting in solid laps, and the crew did a super-super job. It was the strategy from the get-go. Some teams might have been struggling but we kept on and took the win.”
The series’ next contest will take place at Lime Rock, Connecticut over the 4th of July weekend.