Muscle Milk Pickett Racing scored a victory for the ages at Lime Rock Park on Saturday. Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf came from four laps down to win the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. It was the second victory at Lime Rock Park for the Muscle Milk team but first with Honda Performance Development’s ARX-03a prototype.
The comeback thwarted Dyson Racing’s efforts for a second straight win on its home track. A late-race, full-course caution period with 10 minutes left sealed the Muscle Milk win. Graf – who made the winning pass on Guy Smith with a little less than 30 minutes left – and Luhr extended their winning streak to three races as well as their P1 championship lead.
“I could not have driven any quicker,” Graf said. “Until I had gotten into the lead, I wasn’t aware of our position. I just pushed like crazy in traffic, taking a lot of risks. I must have blacked out I was pushing so hard. (Smith) was quicker on the straight a little bit, but around here unless you get some traffic, you have to get lucky. Guy is a world-class driver so it was not going to be easy to get around him.”
The victory looked like a formality for Chris Dyson and pole-sitter Smith when the Muscle Milk car pitted with shifting problems 45 minutes into the race. Luhr was unable to upshift on the circuit, and the crew looked at the actuator and gearbox before determining that the Electronic Control Unit needed to be reset. By that time, Luhr had lost four laps.
From that point on – with the exception of a penalty for speeding in pitlane – Luhr and Graf were in attack mode. The duo took advantage of some timely wave-around periods under yellow and the usual manic traffic around Lime Rock the rest of the way.
“I thought maybe this is over,” Luhr said. “I thought we were going to lose anyhow so I just put the hammer down in traffic. No matter where, I just pushed it; I pushed really hard. By the end of my stint we were only one lap down. All we did was push and fight back.”
After Smith and Dyson in second, Dyson Racing’s second Lola-Mazda of Eric Lux and Michael Marsal were third in class. The Dyson/Smith entry did come away with the prototype victory in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. It used its isobutanol fuel more efficiently and emitted a lesser amount of greenhouse gases than the other prototypes.
Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long won in GT for Flying Lizard Motorsports in a fantastic fight with Corvette Racing and Extreme Speed Motorsports. Bergmeister celebrated his 100th ALMS start with his sixth win in seven Lime Rock races. He held off a stern challenge from Corvette Racing’s pair of Jan Magnussen – also in his 100th ALMS race – and Oliver Gavin.
“They (the Corvettes) were really good in turns 1 and 2, but on the rest of the track we were just slightly quicker,” Bergmeister said. “So I had some really good restarts where I could pull away. We saw a lot of tire failures today; luckily we never had any problems. The car was perfect, the tires were perfect, the drivers were perfect all day.”
Magnussen and Antonio Garcia finished second, just ahead of Gavin and Tommy Milner – the class championship leaders. The Corvette of Magnussen and Garcia was the GT winner in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. It was the cleanest and most efficient GT entry and was second-quickest among the cars as well.
The Lime Rock victory was the first for the 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and the first for the Lizard pairing since 2011 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Saturday’s finish certainly was chock full of drama. The GT fight saw the top-four cars within 0.8 seconds during the last 15 minutes of the race. Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Guy Cosmo was part of that battle until his Ferrari F458 Italia crashed at the last corner to bring out the final caution period.
“We had to go out and get it,” Long admitted. “The competition in GT is so tough, nothing comes to you. A bad day is an eighth place finish; a good day could still only be fourth. We had some bad luck this whole season, but that only makes it much more sweeter now that we’re back.”
Scott Tucker held off Martin Plowman in a thrilling P2 battle as Level 5 Motorsports won for the fourth time in as many races. It was a remarkable day for the Level 5 pairing of Tucker and Christophe Bouchut as their HPD ARX-03b started the race from the last position.
It took Bouchut 22 laps to move into the class lead, and the No. 055 led overall on two occasions.
“Scott said we had a chance to win today. But at Lime Rock this was going to be difficult,” Bouchut said. “We had to overtake so many cars and there are not a lot of places to do that. I was running really well and I just kept pushing as hard as I could. It turned out that was enough to keep driving around and making good passes.”
Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson placed second in their Morgan-Nissan prototype. Plowman was able to close to within a second of Tucker in the final 15 minutes before traffic and the race-ending caution halted his charge.
“In racing, its better to be lucky than good sometimes,” Tucker said. “We used the traffic a lot to make up some speed and gaps. Martin Plowman is such a great driver; I was surprised I could hold my gap to him. I made a couple bold moves at times, and it paid off.”
Dempsey Racing’s Lola-Judd of Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster finished third for their first ALMS podium finish.