Honda Performance Development scored its first double victory in the 2012 American Le Mans Series as the Muscle Milk Racing duo of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr gave the new HPD ARX-03a chassis its first victory in LMP1; while Level 5 Motorsports and drivers Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker took the LMP2 version – the AR-03b – to it’s second class win of the season.
Starting second, Luhr used lapped traffic effectively to move around Guy Smith’s Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda during the opening stint of the race. A caution flag, the only full-course yellow of the race, conveniently arrived just as the two-hour contest reached its midpoint and all the front-runners pitted for fuel and their mandatory driver change.
Taking over from Luhr, Graf made a second, brief pit stop to top-off his fuel load at the end of the caution. That took the Muscle Milk car out of the lead and stuck behind lapped traffic. But Graf relentlessly hunted down pole qualifier and race leader Chris Dyson, and moved to the front for the final time with around 30 minutes left. Once in the lead, Graf continued to press his advantage through the final laps to establish a 43-second margin of victory at the finish.
The team also claimed the Michelin Green X Challenge award for clean, fast and efficient racing. It was the second consecutive Green X win for Muscle Milk at Long Beach and the ninth team the team has won the award.
As at last month’s season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring, where the HPD-equipped Starworks team won LMP2 and finished third overall in its brand new ARX-03b chassis, HPD again won LMP2, as Tucker and Bouchut combined to win the class and finish 10th overall in their Level 5 Motorports ARX-03b. It was the second consecutive Long Beach win for the pair.
Contact from another car spun Tucker’s HPD early in the race, leaving the Level 5 entry well behind the class-leading Conquest Racing Morgan of Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier. But Tucker and teammate Bouchut were relentless in their pursuit, taking the class lead with less then 10 minutes remaining in the race when Plowman was forced to pit for fuel.
The second Level 5 HPD entry, driven by Luis Diaz and Tucker (who drove both his team’s cars), finished third in LMP2. Unfortunately, the final HPD-powered LMP2 entry, the Black Swan Racing Lola of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Tim Pappas, saw its race end after just one lap when it was unable to avoid a GT-class machine, which had previously spun exiting Turn One and directly in the path of the Lola-HPD.
After its first temporary street circuit race of 2012, the American Le Mans Series returns to road courses next month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 13. Meanwhile, the new FIA World Endurance Championship, which also debuted last month at Sebring, has its second race of 2012 on May 5 at the historic Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Lucas Luhr (#6 Muscle Milk Racing HPD ARX-03a) Started 2nd, Finished 1st: “I pushed really, really hard after the caution – just like qualifying laps, really – just to catch up to Chris [Dyson]. Once I was able to get close to him, he struggled a bit coming out of the hairpin and we were side-by-side going down the front straight. I was able to get just ahead of him and stay in front. A really good team comes back strong. That’s what we did today. Sebring [where the team lost a possible podium finish to a late-race refueling failure] was a shave, but now we’ll hopefully keep winning races the rest of the year.”
Steve Eriksen (Vice President, Honda Performance Development) on HPD’s first American Le Mans Series victories of 2012: “Congratulations to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports on their great victory today. The Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of Honda’s ‘home’ races and there were hundreds of Honda associates here to witness the excellent performance of our sports car teams. I’m sure they were all pleased to see our tradition of winning at Long Beach continue, and these wins should give our teams some great momentum going into Laguna Seca. We were also quite pleased to receive yet another Michelin Green X Challenge award demonstrating the high efficiency of Honda’s products.”