By: Tony DiZinno, Sports Car Correspondent
- Lone American prototype team seeks P2 win
- Vital experience gained from 2010 race debut
Tucker, Bouchut, Barbosa ready to contend for class honors
Few teams have entered sports car racing in the last several years with both the ambition and the resources to make a cross-continental championship challenge possible. Then again, Scott Tucker isn’t your everyday team owner.
Leawood, Kan. native and businessman Tucker caught the racing bug only a handful of years ago. Prior to 2010, he raced in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, Ferrari Challenge, SCCA events, the KONI Challenge division and IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge.
A mix of regional and national championship victories included one at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Elkhart Lake’s Road America in 2009 in the Touring 1 class, one of his three national championship wins.
Fast forward to 2010 and with new regulations aimed at attracting new teams, Tucker’s Level 5 Motorsports squad entered the American Le Mans Series as a prime candidate for success. The ALMS added two “Challenge” classes, with a spec package of chassis, engines and tires that could be run for less than $1 million over the course of the year.
Tucker entered the LMP Challenge class as the only entrant with a pair of the Oreca FLM09 chassis, and even more ambitiously, wanted to drive in both, thanks to the ALMS adopting a rule which allows a driver to drive multiple cars.
It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a very successful debut season. The team won its, and the LMPC class’s, initial start at the 12 Hours of Sebring. With four additional wins split between the No. 55 entry Tucker co-drove with Christophe Bouchut and Mark Wilkins and another at the season-ending Petit Le Mans in the No. 95 with Burt Frisselle and Marco Werner, Tucker secured the class championship.
Having Bouchut as a full-season co-driver provided a wealth of experience to draw from as Tucker continued his development into a top-flight driver.
“I’m very happy to have Christophe, and I was very lucky our paths crossed (early on),” Tucker said.
The new year brought greater goals, with a new LMP2 class program running Lola chassis, HPD engines and Michelin tires, aimed at running in both the ALMS and the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
I’m very happy to have Christophe, and I was very lucky our paths crossed.
Level 5 now has three chassis, two which ran on a regular basis in the U.S. and one that is based in Europe, which will help them complete cross-continental schedule of more than a dozen races. Team manager David Stone has played a vital role in logistical planning and coordination for the team and crewmembers.
They were the first American team to jump to LMP2 from LMPC. Teams have been slower to adapt to the reformed LMP2 class in America but nevertheless, being an American team represented at Le Mans is a privilege Tucker doesn’t take lightly.
“There are not many Americans that get to race there, first and foremost, so I feel very privileged to be among that group,” he said. “This year, we’re the only American prototype team there. We feel very fortunate we were selected to race there.”
It may sound like alphabet soup with all the acronyms, but when it comes down to it, all Tucker wants to do is drive. This week, he and the Level 5 team get to do so on the grandest stage.
Tucker’s Level 5 team makes its Le Mans debut this season, but he enters the week with a year of experience. In 2010, Tucker, Bouchut and Manu Rodrigues took the reins of one of Colin Kolles’-run customer Audi R10 TDIs – the first generation Audi diesel powerplant that went undefeated at Le Mans from 2006 to 2008 in the hands of the factory team.
That first year, coupled with running two of the team’s Lola coupes during April’s test day, have prepared both Tucker and the Level 5 team to capture a LMP2 class win in this year’s 24 Hours.
We feel very fortunate we were selected to race there.
“The P2 class is really competitive now,” he said. “We put together the best package we could, and are looking for the best result we can get. We haven’t been able to do a 24-hour test (with this car) but I have full confidence that everything we have can last.”
Level 5 has already worked to overcome challenges they have faced in 2011. One of the chassis was badly damaged at the second ILMC round of the season in Spa, and the team’s ILMC-entered car failed to finish on the podium in the first round at Sebring in March.
Stone, however, has maintained an upbeat, positive attitude and kept the crew going through thick and thin. He confirmed the team is using the chassis sent to Europe after the last ALMS round at Long Beach, while the chassis from Spa is being fixed and ready for revival.
Nevertheless, Tucker, Bouchut and Joao Barbosa, an underrated sports car veteran in his own right, are among the favorites and a primary American focus for this year’s race. Barbosa has 24-hour race wins under his belt so far, with his biggest accomplishment this season co-driving the car that ended Chip Ganassi Racing’s six-race win streak at Virginia International Raceway in the Rolex Series.