Sebring, Fla. – Picking up where it last left off following a dominant 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season, Level 5 Motorsports and Scott Tucker will start the 61st annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida from the pole position after locking out the P2 front row in qualifying Friday at Sebring International Raceway.
Level 5’s two Siemens/Alpina Watches/Ohiya Casino Resort-sponsored Honda Performance Development ARX-03b prototypes enjoyed an exciting duel in the 15-minute session, with open-wheel rivals Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay battling for top honors. In the end, Briscoe’s 1:51.159 lap time, set on his final lap, was good enough for pole in the Australian’s debut race for the three-time ALMS championship-winning organization.
“All of the guys at Level 5 and HPD have been working their butts off, especially with the decision to come here with two cars,” Briscoe said. “We’ve been here at the track since last Friday and have been working very hard. It’s really satisfying to see, for the crew guys and everybody, the preparation pay off when their two drivers are going head-to-head for the pole. Coming from IndyCar, it felt like a normal battle with Hunter-Reay for the pole to me, but it was good and a lot of fun. I love this track and these cars and I’m pretty happy to be starting the race for the team with a 1-2.”
Following a week-long buildup, that’s included multiple test days and practice sessions at the historic 3.7-mile, 17-turn Florida airfield circuit, Level 5 will be aiming for an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory at Sebring. Joining IndyCar veteran Briscoe in the pole-sitting No. 551 car will be Marino Franchitti and team principal Scott Tucker, who will also be pulling driving duties in the No. 552 HPD with Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud. Tucker, a nine-time national driving champion, is nominated to score ALMS championship points in the pole-sitting car.
Both cars have shown impressive pace since the start of official practice on Thursday, with the Level 5 HPD prototypes topping the speed charts in three of the four practice sessions, despite facing strong competition from Europe as well as the new U.S.-based HPDs from Extreme Speed Motorsports.
“We’re really pleased with how things have gone the past few days,” said Tucker. “The cars have been fast and reliable and we made even more progress on speed today. I’ve been very comfortable in both cars and feel ready to play my part in the race tomorrow. Starting 1-2 is great but it’s an endurance race and we know anything can happen. Hopefully with the level of preparation Level 5 always puts in and the strong driver lineup we have again, we can go home as winners.”
The 61st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida is set for 10:45 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 16 from Sebring International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED TV beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET, and will also be available on ALMS.com for international viewers. The Series’ official website will also offer additional content, including live in-car cameras and timing and scoring for all users around the world.
Madison, Wis. — Coming off its most successful season to date in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, Level 5 Motorsports and Scott Tucker have assembled a star-studded driving squad in their bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory in the 61st annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida.
The three-time ALMS championship-winning organization will return to the P2 class with a pair of Honda Performance Development ARX-03b cars for open-wheel standouts Ryan Briscoe, Simon Pagenaud and 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Sportscar veteran Marino Franchitti has also been retained to reinforce Level 5’s lineup, alongside nine-time national driving champion Tucker, who will be in both the Nos. 055 and 95 Siemens/Alpina Watch/Ohiya Casino Resort sponsored entries.
“We’re really excited about our lineup for Sebring,” said Tucker, who has 89 career victories in sportscar racing worldwide. “When we found out that there would be competition in P2, we committed to one car and have since increased that commitment to our normal protocol of two cars. Sebring is always one of the most difficult races but I know we have a strong enough lineup and a strong team in Level 5 to fight for the win.”
Level 5’s lineup for Sebring features a mix of new and returning drivers, all capable of leading the team to victory. ALMS veteran Marino Franchitti has five series class wins and more than 20 podium finishes to his credit, including a second place finish in last year’s Petit Le Mans with brother Dario and team owner Tucker. Hunter-Reay, a former Sebring winner with Level 5, returns after his championship-winning IndyCar season, which saw the top American open-wheel driver earn four victories and seven top-five finishes driving for Andretti Autosport.
The two newcomers to Level 5 have also enjoyed a successful past in the ALMS. Briscoe, who is coming off a five-year stint with Penske Racing in IndyCar, earned four P2 class victories in the factory Porsche RS Spyder program in 2007-2008. Pagenaud, who captured 2012 IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors, won the 2010 ALMS LMP championship with Highcroft Racing and has been one of HPD’s leading development drivers.
“I don’t think anyone would argue that these are all top drivers,” said Level 5 Motorsports team manager David Stone. “Marino Franchitti has done a good job for us in the opportunities we’ve had with him, while Ryan Hunter-Reay has always been one of our choices for the races that we need third drivers. We’re excited to welcome both Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Briscoe to the team as well. Simon has been someone I’ve had my eye on for several years, and he was really good at our pre-Petit Le Mans test last year. And Ryan was a name that popped up recently. We had him in the car at Sebring a few days ago and things went well.”
Four of the five drivers participated in a successful two-day test at Sebring International Raceway last week, which also gave the chance for the team to shake off the cobwebs and prepare for the opening race of the 15th and final season of the American Le Mans Series.
Level 5 has rapidly become one of the most successful sportscar teams in America, having collected three consecutive team championships and 18 victories since its ALMS debut in 2010. Eight of the victories came just last year, including a historic 1-2 overall finish on the streets of Baltimore that helped propel Tucker to his third straight driver’s championship.
While the team’s post-Sebring ALMS plans have yet to be determined, Level 5 is preparing for a return to the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans this June, where Tucker will be looking to improve on his third place finish in 2011. Further details, including the full driver lineup, will be announced at a later date.
America’s oldest endurance race, the 61st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida is set for 10:45 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 16 from Sebring International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED TV beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET, and will also be available on ALMS.com for international viewers. The Series’ official website will also offer additional content, including live in-car cameras and timing and scoring for all users around the world.
Atlanta, Ga. — Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports rounded off a superb season of racing at the 2012 American Le Mans Series finale, Petit Le Mans, by securing a multitude of victories, accolades and, most importantly, the P2 Drivers and Team Championship titles. It is the team’s second P2 Championship and third ALMS title and they recorded eight P2 class victories from ten races, including an overall 1-2 finish at the Baltimore Grand Prix. It was Level 5’s sixth consecutive win in ALMS endurance races and was as hard-fought as any that have gone by, with a dramatic finish to add to the tension.
After an exciting on-track battle in the augmented P2 category for this 1000 mile event, which went down to the wire, Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz took the checkers first in class and second overall in the No. 95 Level 5 HPD ARX 03b and were thrilled to be joined on the podium by Dario and Marino Franchitti, Tucker’s teammates in the No. 055 car. The Franchitti brothers and Tucker battled their way to second in class and third on the overall podium with Marino Franchitti setting the race’s fastest P2 lap en route to the impressive finish. The No. 055 also won the ALMS Green Challenge which rewards high performance on the race circuit, energy efficiency, and the smallest environmental impact.
It hadn’t been a 100 percent straight-forward race for either car but they dealt with close and competitive racing, seven full course caution periods and two penalties during the 9 hour 37.42 minute race. Tucker and Christophe Bouchut had to complete just 70 percent of the race distance to be crowned Drivers’ Champions and, appropriately, Scott Tucker was behind the wheel when he learned the news.
The Kansas-resident, who was also crowned L2 Champion in the Cooper Tires IMSA Lites series Friday, completed an incredible six and a half hours of driving – something not repeated by anyone else in the field – in the two Level 5 HPDs and was behind the wheel of the No. 055 as the laps ticked to the minimum 277 needed to secure the win. “They told me on the radio that we’d won the Championship but I was really focused on my stint in the No. 55 because we were trying to win the race. I said ‘Yay’ and then I went back to work!
“The target of winning the championship is the whole reason we do this. We’re not just here to go out and play around at the weekends, we have a purpose. For Level 5 Motorsports, this will be my 9th Drivers Championship and our 10th Team Championship and we’re building a legacy.”
Tucker also paid tribute to the team’s close rivals throughout the 2012 season, Conquest Endurance. “Conquest were real good competition and they were tough. I’m glad we were racing against them as they really brought the game up. We fought hard every race and they brought a good team to the table.”
Tucker’s co-champion, Christophe Bouchut, had enjoyed a low-key and very steady weekend, with the championship always in mind. The Frenchman said: “I’m delighted to win the Championship; it’s a wonderful feeling to win for the second year in a row in LMP2 and especially with what we did today to win the race in P2. It was a tough season and we had to fight really hard. Here our target was really 70 percent and only after that to fight for the win and that’s exactly what we did. I’m really proud because the season was hard and many times it looked like we’d miss an opportunity to win but each time we caught it and now we’re champions again.”
Also enjoying today’s victory was regular Level 5 Motorsports driver, Luis Diaz. The popular Mexican driver put in a superb turn behind the wheel to make up lost ground and brought the car home to the finish in front of the cheering team. “I was so focused while in the car and trying not to think about the win. I just wanted to drive every lap as hard as I could and the guys did a great job on the pit stops. We were pushing and pushing Conquest and I think they had some contact and got a flat tire. We did what we had to do and I’m really happy for the guys on the team. At one point I think we were three laps behind so winning this very tough race is very special.”
Dario Franchitti was on the edge of his seat throughout the final 40 minutes of the race, watching his younger brother claw back time lost to an earlier penalty. The IZOD IndyCar Series star did a triple stint in the No. 055 car during the afternoon, earning accolades from the team but tempered slightly by a penalty for a brief tangle with a slower car. Soon forgotten by all, however, the Scot had a grin from ear to ear as he watched Marino take the checkered flag: “The whole race has been massive fun and it’s good that the guys got both cars on the podium; it was fitting for the effort and it was an exciting race there. Even after my penalty we were in contention and then, after the second long penalty we were awarded [for improper wave by and passing under yellows], Marino drove the wheels off it coming back through.
“I loved working with Marino, Scott and all the Level 5 guys, but I have to say I’m so impressed by my little brother! I’ve had a lot of good team mates in my time but he’s taught me a few things this weekend. It’s the only time I’ve finished the race here at Road Atlanta and it’s very satisfying to be on the podium. Winning at Daytona is one thing but here it’s all about the traffic and managing it and I got it right 99 percent of the time and made one mistake but I loved it all.
Driving his socks off for the final 40 minutes was a very happy Marino Franchitti, returning to Level 5 for the second year in a row. One of the highlights for both Franchitti brothers was the (rare) chance for them to drive with each other but Marino more than matched his esteemed older brother today. He commented afterwards: “It was a lot of fun. It’s obviously frustrating when you have a car capable of battling for the win and things outside of your control and the team’s control take it away from you. I’m very proud of the Level 5 team though, my team mates Dario and Scott, and the crew did a great job at every stop. We maximized what we had and did our best with what we had and every lap we were pushing.
“We had an issue with the car from the beginning and we’re not sure what it was yet but it was a handful and it got worse as the race went on. It feels very satisfying to get the result because we earned it and we had to overcome all those problems. To get on the podium with my big brother and Scott is just fantastic. Congratulations to Scott and Christophe and Luis for winning the race and for the Championship. What a weekend for Level 5! It’s good to be a part of it.”
A very satisfied Team Manager, David Stone, summed up the day on behalf of the whole team: “Before coming here this was the finish we dreamed of, but you never like to take anything for granted. We tested real hard here a few weeks ago and hopefully some of that paid off. Everyone on the team worked really hard and did a great job, and the drivers all performed as they should have and stayed out of trouble on the track. The Honda chassis and engine both did their jobs perfectly and we had no hiccups all day. I learned just a while ago this was the 50th win for this chassis and also that when Dario ran the car in 2007 it was with the first win for the Honda so it was great to have him here for this one too. I’m sure Scott’s quite excited with the result as the whole team is.”
The team’s achievements will be recognized tomorrow evening in the end-of-season American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron banquet and prize-giving. There is plenty to celebrate!
Atlanta, Ga. — In a day which saw team owner Scott Tucker crowned as the 2012 L2 Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Champion, Level 5 Motorsport’s ALMS qualifying was always going to be in danger of being overshadowed by that success.
Nevertheless, the Wisconsin-based team went all out in the 15-minute session, which took place around the 2.54 mile, 12 turn Road Atlanta track. The eight-entry strong P2 class delivered one of the most exciting and close-run displays with just eight tenths of a second separating the top six in class.
Scotsman Marino Franchitti qualified the No. 055 HPD ARX 03b and, despite concerted efforts throughout, had to settle for third place in class for tomorrow’s 1,000 mile or ten-hour Petit Le Mans. His best time of 1:12.236 was under two tenths of a second away from class pole, which was set by the French OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan, Olivier Pla just edging out the Conquest Endurance Morgan by two thousandths of a second.
Marino Franchitti: “I don’t think we could have done much more but you always want to get pole so I’m slightly disappointed. If you put all the sectors together we could possibly have got a bit closer to pole but we slightly missed on the set up. Just a very small amount but, as you see, as close as it is, that’s all it takes.
“We know we have a good race car once we make a couple of little tweaks after qualifying and go back to what we ran this morning, we were very happy with the balance. Obviously the Morgans are very quick because you can see how close they are together. The main thing now is to look forward to the race and our task of getting Scott and Christophe the championship.”
Level 5’s second HPD, the No. 95, was in the hands of Mexican driver Luis Diaz for qualifying. Christophe Bouchut, who usually handles qualifying, was conserving energy for what is likely to be a long, hot and tough race for everyone tomorrow. Luis’s best lap of 1:12.890 put him sixth in the P2 category, and demonstrates just how close the competition is.
Luis Diaz: “To be honest my goal was to qualify a little bit better than that but for some reason I didn’t have the speed today. But the good thing is that we have a good race car, the car is in one piece and hopefully we’ll be strong tomorrow.”
The tenth and final round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series will begin at 11:30 tomorrow and, against the norm, Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz will be driving the No. 95 entry instead of the No. 055. Team Manager David Stone explains why the switch was made: “No matter how identical two chassis are built and prepared, there are always nuances in them which make drivers more comfortable in one than another. We found, after moving things around in the recent test, that the No. 95 suited Scott and Christophe and their driving style better and, with the Championship goal very much in mind, this is what we did.”
Although Scott Tucker wasn’t able to celebrate his new championship crown with a victory today due to an under-performing engine, he has achieved a very impressive record over the season despite missing one round of the 14-race series. His tally of 8 victories and two second places was unsurpassed and is a testament to the Kansas-resident’s commitment and determination to improve year on year in whatever he races in.
Madison, Wis. — Level 5 Motorsports has taken seven P2 class victories from nine races, including an overall 1-2 finish; there have been intensely fought on-track battles with inestimable opponents Conquest Endurance; the team has raced in two different countries and seven different states, but the outcome of the 2012 American Le Mans Series championship all comes down to one race: Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday, October 20. Scott Tucker and his team are more than ready for the challenge.
A second, consecutive American Le Mans Series P2 Championship is the main prize at stake, with team owner Tucker and his French team mate Christophe Bouchut currently holding a 16-point lead in the drivers’ title chase, and Level 5 Motorsports 23 points ahead in the Team’s championship. Victory at one of North America’s endurance classics is undoubtedly Level 5’s preferred way of rounding off the season, especially among the expanded P2 field which features four entries from the European Le Mans Series in addition to the team’s two Honda Performance Development ARX- 03b entries, the Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan and the Dempsey Racing Lola.
To boost their bid to seal the championship titles, Level 5 has drafted in two drivers with impeccable credentials – Dario and Marino Franchitti. Scott Tucker, along with regular team mates Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz, will be in the No. 055 HPD, while the Kansas-resident will also be behind the wheel of the team’s other entry, the No. 95, with the brothers from Scotland.
“We’re thrilled to have Dario and Marino Franchitti with us to close out the season,” said Scott Tucker. “We’ve had a great year, but we’ve battled for every point and learned something each time we’ve run. We’re looking forward to another strong effort at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans and having a multiple Indy 500 champion on your side is always a plus. Petit Le Mans has been a happy hunting ground for us in the past, and we took the P2 victory last year which sealed the 2011 championship. A repeat performance is what we need now.”
Petit Le Mans, which runs for 1,000 miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first, is one of the biggest draws in the ALMS season and bookends the ALMS’ other endurance classic, the Twelve Hours of Sebring. Only once, in the rain-stopped 2009 race, has the leading team failed to complete 1,000 miles and the duration of the race around the 2.54 mile track has varied between eight hours, 56 minutes (1999) to nine hours, 48 minutes (1998). A 43-strong entry will be racing up, down and around Road Atlanta, situated in the foothills of northern Georgia and north east of Atlanta.
Christophe Bouchut recognizes the challenge ahead: “With over 40 cars on the track, the traffic is going to be the biggest challenge. There are not many places for overtaking on this track and it can be difficult but it’s a long race so we have time to think about this. We’re here to win and that’s what we’re going to do. Like at Sebring and Le Mans, we have to stay focused and have no problems, and we will do well.”
A well-known figure to ALMS audiences, Marino Franchitti is the younger of the racing brothers and he competed for Level 5 in the 2011 edition of Petit Le Mans. He overcame an early race turbo failure on a three-week old car to set a blistering pace and bring home a fifth place class finish, supporting Tucker, Bouchut and Joao Barbosa on their way to victory. The London-based driver, who competed in June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the ground-breaking Nissan DeltaWing P2 car, can’t wait to return to Level 5 and Road Atlanta.
“I think that, when you compare it with the classic sportscar races of Sebring, Le Mans and Daytona it feels like it has cemented its place in the hearts of sportscar teams and fans very quickly, despite it not being nearly as long established,” reflected Marino Franchitti. “It’s a special event and an important race to win, and the atmosphere the fans create is amazing.”
Marino continued: “I think Dario and I can really contribute to Level 5’s bid for the P2 championship. The No. 055 car has to complete 70 percent of the race to win the championship, so our task in the No. 95 car is to help them and take points from our competitors. With so many strong P2 teams coming from Europe for this year’s race, it’s going to change the dynamic the class has had so far this year in the ALMS, and it’s going to be a very exciting challenge.”
While Marino needs no introduction to ALMS audiences, older brother Dario is recognized by motorsport fans on a global basis. The four-time IZOD Indycar Series champion and three-time Indy 500 winner has a passion for all things automotive and, schedules permitting, has combined sportscar races in both the ALMS and Grand Am for several years. However, the rare opportunity to race alongside his brother always get his attention and is a big draw although he says “I think I’ll have to pedal very hard to keep up with him though!!”
Dario Franchitti: “When I realized the Audis and Toyotas were going to be on WEC duty it was clear P2 was going to be a hugely competitive prototype class, perhaps the most competitive. If everything goes our way then an overall win could be possible but the first order of business is to secure Scott the championship and win our class. I’m very much looking forward to racing in the ALMS again. I’ve seen the fortunes of sportscar racing ebb and flow over the years, but the ALMS is one of the few championships left with very open technical rules which is a massive plus point in my opinion.”
2009 ALMS P2 Champion Luis Diaz considers Petit Le Mans as one of his out-and-out favorites: “I’m not exactly sure what it is about this track but I have always been very strong here and it definitely suits my driving style. Taking the pole position last year was very special and I hope we can repeat this week and follow it up with a win. We’ve had a great battle with Conquest all year and it’s made for great racing, and I know that not only the drivers and the teams but also the fans have really enjoyed it. But, at the end of the day, we’ve won the most races, had the most poles, and I’m confident that we’ll do what we need to do this weekend to make sure we win the championship again.”
The final race of the 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón is Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda. The 1,000-mile/10-hour race from Road Atlanta is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 20. ABC’s broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 21. Full, live coverage starts at 11:15 a.m. ET on ESPN3.