Tucker And Level 5 Motorsports Take Advantage Of Six-Hour Format At Monterey
Topics: Scott Tucker, ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron
For the second year in a row, the American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway on the Monterey Peninsula was a six-hour enduro race that led drivers around the circuit into the post-sundown darkness.
Previously, the race had been four hours, with the addition of two extra hours in 2010. For Scott Tucker and his Level 5 Motorsports racing team, the two extra hours allow for some breathing room. "We always try to run a clean race, but little mistakes can add up," Tucker said last year. "Two extra hours can be a huge advantage even for experienced teams because of those unexpected things you tend to run into with endurance races."
Believing Tucker and teammates Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz needed a 120-minute time allowance to overcome mistakes would have been easier in 2010, as it was Level 5 Motorsports' debut year in the Le Mans series. Still, the David Stone-managed, Microsoft Office-sponsored team took the LMP class championship, and Tucker was rookie of the year.
In the 2011 season, driver mistakes have been few and far between for the Wisconsin-based team. Exploding into the season with numerous podium finishes, the Level 5 drivers seemingly faced only circumstantial setbacks. After making podium at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Long Beach circuit and Imola in Italy, and achieving top LMP2 points and a fourth-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team had a record of majority clean races, with nary a scratch or a ding on their Nos. 55 and 95 entries.
However, the team has faced those little mistakes that tend to add up. At the first appearance of the season, at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the team—on track for the podium for the better part of the race—finished eighth after Tucker's No. 95 got caught in a stack-up in the notoriously narrow track. Even with seamless subsequent performances by Bouchut and Diaz, who had just joined the team at the beginning of the year, Level 5 couldn't make up for the error. In a 24-hour race, extra time isn't an option, but the outcome of the Rolex 24 might have been different had each driver just had a bit more seat time.
"One of the benefits of a six-hour endurance race is the extra seat time in a racing environment," Tucker said at the Monterey. "It maximizes the efficiency of the track time allowed for a driver."
The team couldn't fix the mistakes in time to make podium at Daytona, but they made quick work of perfecting their form and began their winning streak just after the disappointment at Daytona.
But at the Spa-Francorchamps race, a suspension failure sent Bouchut into the sideboards, and the team's hopes of continuing its incredible streak with another ILMC top finish were dashed.
"It's one of those things in racing," Tucker said. "It's pretty unfortunate—it's a pretty rough spot on the track for that failure to happen." The statement is reminiscent of what Tucker had said the previous year about little unexpected things that pop up in endurance races. Another unexpected development came in the summer for the Level 5 team, when a Honda Performance Development/Wirth Research partnership was producing a cost-capped LMP2 prototype. Tucker reserved the first two out of production, and the Level 5 team commenced waiting for the cars to be ready, ultimately pulling out of Lime Rock and Silverstone, partially because they didn't face much competition and partially because they were preparing the new car for its ALMS debut.
Incidentally, the new car's first ride was at the second six-hour Monterey at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. The team pulled off a stunning first performance in the HPD ARX-01g. Each of the drivers has undoubtedly improved since the first six-hour format in 2010, and certainly the newer, faster car was also a significant factor in the podium finish, but one has to wonder how it would have fared in a four-hour enduro. World-class motorsports competition is a field of strategy, with vehicle, driver order and track time all important factors to consider.
Brent Arends has been keeping a close eye on Scott Tucker, owner and driver, of Level 5 Motorsports throughout the past year. To get more information about Tucker, check out http://www.planetlemans.com/?s=scott+tucker to the latest on sports car and GT racing.
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