Honda Performance Development’s extended run of victories in the 2013 American Le Mans Series continued Saturday on the streets of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr prevailed in an incident-filled event to claim their sixth consecutive victory of the season, clinching both the LMP1 drivers’ and team championships for the Honda Performance Development-equipped team.
In the LMP2 category, the Level 5 Motorsports duo of new driver Guy Cosmo and incumbent Marino Franchitti successfully negotiated their way through the multiple incidents that either delayed or eliminated their competition to finish first in class, and third overall, in their HPD ARX-03b Honda.
The scheduled two-hour event got off to a chaotic start, when a multi-car accident took place just behind the leaders as the field came to the green flag. Defending race winner and LMP2 championship leader Scott Tucker’s day ended almost immediately, as his HPD ARX-03b was struck from behind, spun into the concrete barriers, and then received heavy contact from several following GT machines.
Tucker escaped serious injury in the crash, but the incident brought out the red flag so that the course could be cleared. When the race eventually restarted, just over an hour later and now shortened to 77 minutes due to time constraints, another multi-car incident at Turn Four resulted in damage to Ed Brown’s Extreme Speed Motorsports ARX-02b, sending the Honda-powered prototype to the pits for extended repairs.
The Pickett Racing team took advantage of the early caution to make its one scheduled pit stop and driver change in their HPD ARX-03c Honda, with Luhr taking over from Graf. With most other teams remaining on track, Luhr resumed the race in 13th place overall, but moved through the field to regain the lead with approximately 35 minutes remaining.
On a late-race restart, however, Luhr found himself losing traction after driving over liquid on the track surface and slid wide at Turn 9, falling back to fourth overall as he was passed by both his LMP1 rival Guy Smith in the Dyson Racing Lola Mazda, and the pair of GT class-leading Chevrolet Corvettes, one of which struck the rear of the HPD machine, damaging the right rear fender and diffuser.
Luhr quickly re-passed the Corvettes, then fought with Smith for several laps before regaining the lead for good with just over 12 minutes remaining, despite handling issues resulting from the damaged rear bodywork. Smith and the Dyson machine continued to challenge for several laps, before Luhr edged away to a 3.87-second advantage at the checkers.
In LMP2, Cosmo successfully avoided the chaos taking place all around him in the opening laps to claim the lead, while fellow HPD-equipped challenger Extreme Speed Motorsports saw both of its ARX-03b’s sent to Pit Lane to serve penalties: Anthony Lazzaro for contact during the aborted first start; and teammate Ed Brown for contact with an LMPC entry shortly after the second race start. Brown would later make contact with the tire barriers, resulting in a long pit stop for repairs.
After taking over from teammate Cosmo during their single scheduled pit stop, Franchitti held the class lead for Level 5, despite a late-race caution that closed up the field, with Scott Sharp finishing just over nine seconds in arrears after replacing Lazzaro in the Extreme Speed HPD.
The 2013 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron now heads to the Circuit of the Americas, just outside of Austin, Texas, for its September 21 inaugural event at the newest major motorsports facility in North America.
Klaus Graf (#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c Honda) 1st overall and in LMP1 with co-driver Lucas Luhr; ALMS series record 6th consecutive win for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Honda in 2013; clinched team and drivers’ championship: “It was a great day for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Winning a second championship in a row and six wins in a row this year is very rewarding. We were never able to win this race before, so it’s a good day! The team did a great job. Since last year at this race, we haven’t had a mechanical failure of any kind, and I think that speaks for our organization around Greg Pickett, and our partners at HPD. We have great engineering, great mechanics and a great team. Whatever the future holds, I think we will bring a good package and have a lot of fun.”
Allen Miller (Sports Car Racing Large Project Leader, Honda Performance Development) on Sunday’s double victory for HPD in Baltimore: “Despite the shortened distance, I think this turned out to be a long, hard race for everyone! Congratulations to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing on setting an American Le Mans Series record with its sixth win this year, and to everyone on the team for securing the team and drivers’ championships. Our next goal is to lock down the manufacturers’ title, hopefully at the next race at Circuit of the Americas. Congratulations also to Level 5 Motorsports for its fifth LMP2 win this year, and the first in the class for Guy Cosmo. It’s unfortunate that Scott Tucker’s race ended so soon through no fault of his own, but it sets up an interesting battle for the drivers’ championship in the closing races with [teammate] Marino [Franchitti] and Scott Sharp in the Extreme Speed HPD.”