Luhr & Graf Prevail At Laguna Seca

Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf drove their Muscle Milk machine to victory in Saturday's American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. (Jerry Jones photo)
Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf drove their Muscle Milk machine to victory in Saturday’s American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. (Jerry Jones photo)

MONTEREY, Calif. — Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won here for the second straight year, Corvette Racing took a nail-biter in GT, and two classes saw last-lap passes for victory in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on Saturday.

Luhr became the ALMS’ all-time leader in wins with 43, and he and Graf are the first drivers to repeat at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca since 2007. Luhr took advantage of a daring move at the downhill Corkscrew in his No. 6 Muscle Milk Honda Performance Development ARX-03a and a late-race puncture for Rebellion Racing’s Neel Jani to win the American Le Mans Monterey.

“This was sports car racing at its best,” Graf said “My man Lucas drove a hell of a race. We are a really good sports car paring right now. At the end, it came down to the moves Lucas made in passing Neel. (Both teams) ran the same strategy, a good strategy, but today we have maybe a little better race-craft and a little more luck today for the win.”

Luhr won by 6.352 seconds thanks to a late-race caution and a one-lap dash to the finish. Jani and Nick Heidfeld in the No. 12 Rebellion Timepieces/Lemco Connectors/Speedy Garage Lola-Toyota led most of the race’s first half. Luhr’s pass through the Corkscrew came just past the two-hour mark. The two cars swapped the lead four times over the final 34 laps and even made contact with 40 minutes left.

“After contact, the car was trashed,” Luhr said. “Aerodynamically it was all messed up and mechanically I could feel the toe-link or something was broken. But I could fight it around. I knew the Rebellion car was much quicker on the straights so I knew (passing Jani in the Corkscrew) would be my only chance. The choice was good, but in the moment I thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea now that the rumble strips are throwing my car around.”

Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick were third in class in DeltaWing Racing Cars’ No. 0 DeltaWing LM12. Legge is the first woman driver to finish on the P1 podium in the ALMS.

Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia won a nail-biter in GT with the first five cars finishing within three seconds. The No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6 ZR1 led for the final three hours, 15 minutes but its lead was never more than five seconds the entire way.

Garcia finished 0.982 seconds ahead of Bryan Sellers in the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

“I thought today, with as perfect as we’ve been driving, if we don’t get this win, I wouldn’t know what else to do,” Garcia said. “Everything worked, right where it needed to be. I think last year we had something like five second-place finishes, so we really deserved a win or two.”

Sellers and Wolf Henzler were 0.754 seconds ahead of Dirk Müller and John Edwards in the third-place No. 56 BMW North America, LLC/Crowne Plaza BMW Z4 GTE. However, the No. 17 Porsche failed its stall test in post-race technical inspection, stripping the team and drivers of all points and prize money. The No. 17 does retain second in the final GT race standings.

The top eight cars in the class ran nose-to-tail and nine seconds covered the group well into the race’s second half. As is typically the case, the GT battle came down to pit stops. The No. 3 Corvette crew was four seconds quicker during its four stops than the Falken team in an incredibly even-matched affair.

“Today was one of the most perfect races we’ve had with Corvette Racing,” Magnussen said. “We were under pressure the whole way. We never had a big lead, we really had to work through traffic and not get stopped by the slower cars and lose too much time. It was a matter of being 100 percent precise the whole race.”

Marino Franchitti and Scott Tucker led a 1-2 finish for Level 5 Motorsports, the team’s second such result of the season. Their No. 551 Siemens/Alpina Watches/Ohiya Casino Resort HPD ARX-03b was 5.578 seconds ahead of the No. 552 sister car, which Tucker drove with Ryan Briscoe.

Franchitti moved into first place at the two-and-half hour mark for his second win of the season with Tucker. The two won with Ryan Briscoe at Sebring and avenged a 1-2 class finish by Extreme Speed Motorsports at Long Beach.

“It was a perfect weekend and a great way for Level 5 to bounce back after Long Beach,” Franchitti said. “This is what we needed going into Le Mans. The teams worked really hard, day and night. I picked a lot of spots today, and I tried to keep myself in positions where I wouldn’t be in danger. That was going to be the only way we could win this race.”