A FINE VICTORY AT LONG BEACH!
At Long Beach, Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker, with the Level 5 Motorsports team, claimed their second win from two races since the start of the season. They also dominated the Californian street circuit for the second year in a row, after a weekend that was far from restful !
One of the charms of the American Le Mans Series is the lack of routine. The calendar is made up of varying event formats and very different circuit types. Having taken part in the longest race of the season on the former military airport of Sebring, the teams crossed the United States from east to west to run for 120 minutes in the streets of Long Beach. Between these two races, Christophe Bouchut came back to France, and on the flight from Paris to Los Angeles he had a rather unexpected meeting. "In the plane, I was sitting next to Steve Hart, one of the members of the British boy band Worlds Apart. We got along well, exchanged contact details, and he came to see the race with his daughter and his partner, the actress Ashley Scott." She has appeared in many films and TV series, including Jericho and CSI : Miami.
The conditions were incredible on Friday for free practice. "It was cold, with strong winds, and it was raining so hard that the track turned into a lake," Christophe explained. This session was far from fun for the French driver, who had to contend with a gear box that was even more difficult that the weather. "I couldn’t shift down. Despite many pit stops, we could not solve the problem, and I was not able to avoid going off the track."
Everything returned to normal for the qualifying session… except for the weather, which continued to be a problem. The GTC cars were the first out, followed by the GTs, and when the LMPC cars set off, a violent storm hit Long Beach. The organizers were forced to cancel qualifying. The starting grid was made up according to the championship classification, and in the category order. The three LMP1 prototypes, the most competitive, were therefore in the front, head of the Sebring LMP2 winners, Bouchut and Tucker.
Despite this enviable position on the grid, and although it stayed dry on race day, Level 5 Motorsports expected a difficult day : "We were unable to do any set-up work in the dry," Christophe commented. "Moreover, it was our first time on this track with the HPD ARX-03b. So the engineers were faced with a double puzzle in terms of the set-up." Following the team’s usual strategy, Scott Tucker took the start, but after just 20 minutes, he was hit by another prototype and spun. The car had some difficulties to get going again, and lost a lap.
"We thought that it was all over. When I took over from Scott, after 55 minutes of racing, I quickly noticed that the car was very delicate to drive. There was no grip at the front, and a lack of top speed. That is when our engineers had a brilliant idea. I received the instruction by radio to go over to ‘map 3’, an engine mapping program which reduces fuel consumption. This surprised me initially, because I was still doing some good times and catching up with the leader, but it was clearly the right decision. I was able to get to the end without making a second stop, while the Morgan-Conquest had to make a splash-and-dash six minutes before the chequered flag… Three laps from the end, the fuel reserve light came on, and in the last lap, I lifted off in order to manage our lead."
Therefore, the nr 55 Honda Performance Development claimed a victory which has allowed Scott and Christopher to pull out a lead in the ALMS LMP2 category. "Like in Sebring and last year in Long Beach, the weekend started rather badly before finishing with a win. It is proof of the solidity of the team. " Level 5 Motorsports intends to continue its progress in Laguna Seca, a circuit where they won in LMP2 in 2011, and in LMPC the year before, with the bonus of 4th and3 rd places overall! Christophe particularly enjoys this area of California. " I love visiting San Francisco, and the Laguna Seca track is always an interesting challenge. It is built in the dunes, and gets covered with a fine layer of sand when the wind blows, which changes the grip."