The hills of Lime Rock, Connecticut roared to life over the weekend as the American Le Mans Series rolled into town for the 2012 Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, and what a race it was. Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing took overall honors in their HPD ARX-03a P1 entry over the No. 16 Lola Mazda from Dyson Racing driven by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith.
The win was anything but clear sailing for Pickett Racing, however. 45 minutes into the 2 hour and 45 minute race, Luhr brought the HPD into pit lane with shifting troubles. The team eventually got it sorted out, but by the time they did they were four laps down.
“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.”
For the next two hours Luhr, and then Graf, were in attack mode. The duo set fast lap after fast lap, using the usual manic Lime Rock traffic and some timely wave arounds under caution to make their way back to the front of the field. Graf finally caught and passed Smith in the Dyson Lola with about 30 minutes remaining to take the lead. He never looked back.
“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…”
The win was Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s third in a row after dominating both at Long Beach and Laguna Seca.
In P2 it was the #055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b of Scott Tucker and Chrisophe Bouchut taking top honors for the fourth straight race, holding off a late race charge from the Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan. The win was all the more impressive considering that Bouchut had been forced to take the start of the race from the back of the 29-car grid after a misunderstanding by the team concerning Tucker’s minimum driving time in the No.055. After only 14 minutes of racing however, Bouchut found himself third overall and leading the P2 class.
“Scott said to me before the race, this is our chance to win today.” Said Bouchut. “But at Lime Rock this was always going to be difficult; 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.”
In GT it was a constant battle as usual. Joerg Bergmeister, driving in his 100th ALMS race, and Patrick Long took the checkered flag in the Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR ahead of the two Corvette Racing entries. The win was Flying Lizards first of the season after a tough start in the first three rounds.
“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.”
A major story in the GT class was the emergence of Extreme Speed Motorsports as a true front running contender. Both of the ESM Ferrari 458 Italias led the class at different points in the race, but both cars were involved in independent incidents involving overly aggressive passing maneuvers by two different Prototype Challenge cars, including the incident with eight minutes remaining which caused the race to finish under caution. In the end the #01 ESM Ferrari driven by Scott Sharp and Johannes Van Overbeek was classified fourth in GT and the #02, driven by Guy Cosmo and Ed Brown, finished eleventh, albeit on a flatbed.
In the Prototype Challenge class, Core Autosport took the top two spots on the podium in their spec Oreca FLM09s and in the GT Challenge class Leh Keen in the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup held off a late charge from Damian Faulkner in the Green Hornet Racing #34 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
“If we would have stayed green, I think we could have had something for the no. 22,” stated Faulkner. “It’s a bit disappointing when you know you can win, but this race is always so tough that we’re happy to walk away with good points. It’s a tight championship fight, and we’ll carry this on to Mosport.”
Green Hornet Racing, located only three and a half hours away in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, arrived at Lime Rock Park as a two car effort for the first time. Both cars finished the race classified second and fifth in class, and those were fantastic results to team owner, and driver of both cars, Peter LeSaffre.
“Overall we’re satisfied with the weekend,” claimed LeSaffre. “Damien drove remarkably at the end trying to chase down Leh, it’s just a shame he had that caution at the end. The opening stint was frustrating, as I was trying to keep a clean car for Damien and the no. 44 just drove in to me. We’re still in a tight battle with the no. 22, so we’ll just keep this momentum going. It was also a great addition to have the no. 33 team for this weekend. The guys did a great job and showed we can successfully run a two-car operation. I’d say we’re quickly proving we have a great team.”
The American Le Mans Series heads to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, the circuit formerly known as Mosport, for the fifth round of the season on July 20-22. Two weeks later the series stops at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.
2012 American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix
Lime Rock Park/1.474 miles/July 6-7, 2012/Lakevill, CT
Time of Race: 2:45:31.207
P1 Klaus Graf 45.148
P2 Martin Plowman 47.354
PC Colin Braun 48.823
GT Bill Auberlen 51.091
GTC Spencer Pumpelly 55.730
1. (2) Luhr; Graf; HPD ARX-03a Honda (1, P1), 168.
2. (1) Dyson; Smith; Lola B12/60 Mazda (2, P1), 168.
3. (3) Tucker; Bouchut; HPD ARX-03b Honda (1, P2), 168.
4. (6) Heinemeier Hansson; Plowman; Morgan/Nissan (2, P2), 168.
5. (12) Bennett; Braun; Oreca FLM09 (1, PC), 164.
6. (11) Papow; Kimber-Smith; Oreca FLM09 (2, PC), 164.
7. (9) Foster; Dempsey; Lola B12/87-Judd BMW V8 (3, P2), 162.
8. (13) Richard; Ende; Oreca FLM09 (3, PC), 162.
9. (17) Long; Bergmeister; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (1, GT), 160.
10. (18) Garcia; Magnussen; Corvette C6-ZR1 (2, GT), 160.
11. (15) Milner; Gavin; Corvette C6-ZR1 (3, GT), 160.
12. (19) van Overbeek; Sharp; Ferrari F458 Italia (4, GT), 160.
13. (16) Hand; Mueller; BMW E92 M3 (5, GT), 159.
14. (14) Auberlen; Muller; BMW E92 M3 (6, GT), 159.
15. (20) Sellers; Henzler; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (7, GT), 158.
16. (21) Miller; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (8, GT), 157.
17. (27) Holzer; Neiman; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (9, GT), 157.
18. (22) Sweedler; Bell; Lotus Evora/Cosworth (10, GT), 156.
19. (10) Dobson, Carmel Valley, CA; Butch Leitzinger; Oreca FLM09 (4, PC), 156.
20. (30) Cosmo, Long Island, NY; Ed Brown; Ferrari F458 Italia (11, GT), 153.
21. (4) Marsal; Lux; Lola B11/66 Mazda (3, P1), 153.
22. (23) MacNeil; Keen; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (1, GTC), 151.
23. (28) Lesaffre; Faulkner; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (2, GTC), 151.
24. (25) Sofronas; Welch; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (3, GTC), 150.
25. (29) Valiante; Cumming; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (4, GTC), 150.
26. (26) Lazzaro; Lesaffre; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (5, GTC), 148.
27. (8) Drissi; Junqueira; Oreca FLM09 (5, PC), 146.
28. (24) Piera; Pumpelly: Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (7, GTC), 145.
29. (7) Downs; Marcelli; Oreca FLM09 (6, PC), 21.