On the heels of a flawless three-day privatetest at Sebring International Raceway this week, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports are pleased to announce the team’s driver lineup for the 60th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida and American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season.
Coming off one of its most successful seasons to date, which included the ALMS LMP2 drivers’ and teams’ titles and a podium at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, Level 5 has again assembled a star-studded lineup that’s capable of taking on the world’s best at Sebring and the increased competition that the LMP2 category will bring throughout the year.
Five-time national champion Scott Tucker will spearhead driving duties once again, sharing the wheel of both of Level 5’s Honda Performance Development ARX-03b prototypes. He’ll be joined by veteran Frenchman Christophe Bouchut and Joao Barbosa in the No. 055 for Sebring, while IZOD IndyCar Series star Ryan Hunter-Reay and Luis Diaz complete the roster in the No. 95 HPD for the ALMS season opener.
Tucker, who earned his second consecutive ALMS title and hat-trick of SCCA National Championships in 2011, is on track to reach an unprecedented 75th career victory this year, many of which have come while surrounded by the world-class superstar drivers he brings together.
“We were very proud of our wins and championships last year and thought the continuity, especially in the driver lineup, would be important as we head to Sebring and begin our ALMS title defense,” said Tucker.“Christophe and Luis did a great job for us last year and both Ryan and Joao were a part of our success as well. It made the most sense to continue with our proven lineup for Sebring.”
Having been with Level 5 since 2008, Bouchut returns to the wheel with owner/driver Tucker for the full 10-round ALMS series, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he’ll be making his 19th start in the world’s greatest endurance race. Last year, Bouchut celebrated victories at Long Beach, Road America, Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta and collected his first ALMS drivers’ title with Tucker.
“I’m very happy to be back with Level 5 Motorsports and Scott Tucker for the 2012 season,” Bouchut said. “At Sebring, and especially Le Mans, where there will be 18 cars in LMP2, we know the competition will be tough. Also, with new cars coming in the ALMS, it will make it tighter thanlast year. So we have to be on top of what we’re able to do in order to win the championship again.”
Tucker and Bouchut will again be joined at Sebring by Portuguese ace Barbosa, a regular in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series who enjoyed a successful season in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup with Level 5 last year. The trio earned a victory at the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans in Road Atlanta and also achieved podium finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Six Hours of Imola in Italy.
The No. 95 HPD ARX-03b will be led by Tucker and Diaz for the season. As one of the most successful drivers to hail from Mexico, Diaz, the 2009 ALMS LMP2 champion, made a positive impression in his Level 5 debut last year, claiming wins at Sebring, Road America and Laguna Seca, plus a popular pole run at Road Atlanta. His quick and consistent pace was rewarded with another full-time drive for 2012.
“I’m looking forward to the season,” Diaz said. “Certainly I think with all of the news that has happened during the winter, there’s a very good grid in the P2 class. It’s a good category and the HPD is a great car to drive. The American Le Mans Series is one of the best series in the world. I’m happy to be with a strong and competitive team in Level 5 and looking forward to the season with Scott.”
Completing the lineup in the No. 95 car for Sebring is open-wheel veteran Hunter-Reay. The Andretti Autosport driver collected histhird career IndyCar Series victory at New Hampshire and finished seventh in the championship in 2011. His most recent start with Level 5 came at Sebring last year, where he, Tucker and Diaz claimed victory in the team’s LMP2 debut.
“We’re happy to have Christophe, Luis, Joao and Ryan back with Level 5 for 2012,” said team manager David Stone. “They’re all good, top guys and while there could have been some other choices, I don’t think there could have been any better choices to join Scott in the HPDs. It’s good to have the continuity and working relationship with the same crew and we’re all looking forward to the season.”
Level 5 continued its aggressive pre-season testing program this week at Sebring, with both Barbosa and Hunter-Reay getting their firstlaps in the new HPD ARX-03b. Joined by Tucker, the flawless three-day test saw the trio log 1500 miles in the No. 055 car, with a best time of 1:50.515 set by Hunter-Reay. It was over one-second faster than the team’s top time set here just three weeks ago.
As was the case during their first test at Sebring, Level 5 focused on continued tire development with new partner Dunlop and full tankruns to gauge the car’s performance over multiple stints on the brutal 3.7-mile, 17-turn former World War II airfield circuit. All three drivers gained plenty of track time, particularly Tucker, who made significant gains over the course of the test sessions.
“This year’s race is shaping up to be a big one with a lot of fast cars and drivers in LMP2,” Stone added. “So many things can happen; it’s of course a 12-hour race and at Sebring, which is especially demanding on the cars. I feel like we have a good base in that we’ve now tested here forfive days, with the earlier test this month and the three days here this week.”
With the build of its second HPD ARX-03b still ongoing following a production delay due to the recent European snow storm, Level 5’s immediate attention turns to the completion of the cost-capped LMP2 car prior to its planned roll-out at Sebring on March 10. Both of the new cars are expected to be on-track for that private test, in advance of additional official testing on March 12-13 and practice and qualifying later in the week.
Level 5 and Tucker will be seeking their third consecutive class victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The American Le Mans Series season-opener is set for a 10:30 a.m. ET start on March 17, and willalso as the first race for the new FIA World Endurance Championship. It will be broadcast March 18 on ABC and shown live on ESPN3 or ALMS.com.