Honda Performance Development completed an impressive season Saturday at the season- and series-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, as the Level 5 Motorsports trio of Ryan Briscoe, Marino Franchitti and Scott Tucker prevailed for the LMP2 race victory and season championship by less than 1.4 seconds over season-long rival Extreme Speed Motorsports.
In LMP1, season champion Muscle Milk Pickett Racing dominated the opening hours of the 1,000-mile endurance race – the second-longest of the American Le Mans Series season – but the driving trio of Romain Dumas, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr encountered overheating issues aboard its HPD ARX-03c Honda as the race neared its midpoint, and was forced to retire.
It was the only “Did Not Finish” of the season for the Muscle Milk team, in a year that was highlighted by a series-record eight consecutive overall and LMP1 victories. That streak ensured a second-consecutive American Le Mans Series constructors’ championship for HPD, engine championship for Honda, team championship for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and drivers’ championship for team regulars Graf and Luhr.
After an early-lap battle with the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota of Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, and Nicholas Prost on a damp track, the Muscle Milk trio established a solid lead in the second hour of the race under constantly changing track conditions, and had opened up an advantage of nearly two laps when overheating issues struck the HPD-Honda. Rebellion then went on win overall and LMP1.
In LMP2, the second Level 5 entry of Guy Cosmo, Peter Dumbreck and Jonny Kane battled the Extreme Speed Honda trio of David Brabham, Anthony Lazzaro and Scott Sharp in the opening hours, with both efforts taking turns at the front. Meanwhile, the second Level 5 HPD ARX-03b Honda of Briscoe, Franchitti and Tucker ran a consistent third, remaining on the lead lap and then making a surge to the front in the final two hours.
As the Cosmo/Dumbreck/Kane HPD faded to third, teammates Briscoe, Franchitti and Tucker battled the Brabham/Lazzaro/Sharp trio for the class win, which also would help determine the drivers’ championship between Level 5 owner/driver Tucker and Extreme Speed team principal Sharp.
With less than an hour remaining, Level 5 pulled out a narrow advantage in the final round of pit stops, taking fuel only, to hold off Extreme Speed by just 1.394 seconds at the checkers. As a result, Tucker claimed his third consecutive LMP2 drivers’ title, with teammate Franchitti second and Sharp third. It also marked the third consecutive American Le Mans Series LMP2 manufacturers’ championship for HPD, and engine championship for Honda.
The 2013 Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta was the final American Le Mans Series event, as the series merges with Grand-Am in 2014 to form the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. The new series debuts January 25 with the 24 Hours of Daytona, at Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
Lucas Luhr(#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c Honda) LMP1champion for second consecutive year with co-driver Klaus Graf; scored an ALMS series record eight consecutive winsfor Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Honda in 2013: “There were 10 races in this championship. We won eight, and that is very outstanding for everybody involved with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. It’s a shame that our season ended like this. But in racing, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Everyone can be very proud of what we have achieved these last few years, and I think we need to end the season with that thought.”
Scott Tucker(#551 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b Honda) 1st in LMP2 and 2ndoverall with co-drivers Ryan Briscoe and Marino Franchitti; wins the LMP2 drivers’ championship for the third consecutive year with Honda power: “All of the races this year have been hard. Extreme Speed Motorsports gave us really tough competition throughout the season and it could have gone either way. Today it came down to the last race, and we had to win. Fortunately, it all worked out.”
Allen Miller(Honda Performance Development Large Project Leader, Sports Car Racing) on Saturday’s season-ending Petit Le Mans: “Congratulations to Level 5 Motorsports for its third consecutive LMP2 championship, and to season-long rival Extreme Speed Motorsports for an outstanding effort in its first season of sports-prototype competition. The battle between these two HPD-equipped teams made for an exciting LMP2 battle right from the opening around at Sebring. In LMP1, it’s a shame that Muscle Milk Pickett racing ended its championship-winning season on a ‘down’ note, with their only retirement of the season, but the team can be extremely proud of scoring eight consecutive victories this year and itssecond championship in partnership with HPD. All of the associates at HPD can be proud of their effortsand the results they produced in sports car racing in 2013; a combined total of 18 wins in LMP1 and LMP2 is a new record for Honda. But we’re already looking forward to next season, with the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship providing increased prototype competition for Honda and HPD.