MADISON, Wis. — For teams competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Sunday, June 9 is often considered to be the single-most important day in the build-up to the world-famous endurance race. That’s because, for eight hours, drivers will have full reign of Circuit de la Sarthe, in the one-and-only testing opportunity prior to race week itself on the legendary French circuit.
With approximately 75 percent of the 8.459-mile course made up of public roads, which are closed off to competitors for only a few days each year, the Le Mans Test Day comes as a crucial part in the preparation for both car and drivers. And for the third consecutive year, Level 5 Motorsports will be taking full advantage of the available track time with an innovative two-car approach.
The three-time and defending American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón championship-winning organization will have both of its Honda Performance Development ARX-03b race cars on track Sunday, despite only one being entered for the race in two weeks’ time.
The concept, first proposed by team principal and nine-time national driving champion Scott Tucker in the team's first Le Mans appearance in 2011, allows the accomplished racer to focus his driving efforts in the No. 44 car for the test. Therefore it leaves the race-entered No. 33 HPD for co-drivers Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, who will be making his much-anticipated Le Mans debut.
"It allows Scott, as an owner/driver, to drive all day. And who wouldn't want to do that at Le Mans?” says Level 5 Crew Chief Ken Swan. “Personally, I'd have to say that's probably one of the coolest things to do. It gives him that opportunity just to get laps at Le Mans, which are so scarce. It's so tough to get time here. Scott is really good at getting a read on the car and trying out things for the race. It's not like he'll just be getting laps; he'll be working on the car for the race, with the engineers.”
With Honda’s latest generation 2.8-liter twin-turbo V6 direct-injection engine, as well as new 2013-specification Michelin tires to come to grips with, Tucker will be tasked with completing long stints in the No. 44 car to simulate race-like conditions. And given his history at the circuit, which included a podium finish in 2011, Tucker is the perfect man for the job.
"We'll do a lot of fuel map tuning ,” explains Level 5 Chief Strategist Jeff Braun. “We'll also have different tire compounds and have Scott run full stints, double stints, and maybe even triple stints with various tire compounds so we'll know what to expect.”
The main objective for the other car will be to have Briscoe complete his mandatory 10 laps, required for any rookie driver at Le Mans. After that, the IZOD IndyCar Series ace and Franchitti will focus on developing an optimal setup for race week, utilizing Level 5’s vast knowledge pool, which includes former Le Mans class-winning engineer, Piers Phillips, who will be calling the shots on the No. 33 car.
“It’s Ryan’s first time here, so we need him to learn the track and get up to speed quickly,” Swan says. “Marino has obviously been there before, so with those guys, we can work on setup. As we improve the car setup, we'll begin putting that on Scott's car as well. Throughout the day, we'll be working on two different engineering plans and working towards having the best possible car for the race.”
Level 5’s decision to bring a second car, complete with a full support crew, to the one-day test may sound like a significant investment for a U.S.-based team. However, it comes as a rather inexpensive insurance policy in the case of an unexpected issue during the eight-hour test, or even heading into the race week itself.
"Last year at the test, we ran into trouble with the fuel cell on one car,” says Level 5 Team Manager David Stone. “We lost three-quarters of the day but in the meantime we had another car running on track.
“In a worst-case scenario, you've got an entire car of spare parts on top of your spare parts,” Stone adds. “So you know without a shadow of a doubt that you have every single component of the car with you. We're fortunate to have a team owner that is as serious as Scott Tucker is to provide the resources needed for success.”
NEXT RACE: 24 Hours of Le Mans
June 22-23, 2013