LONG BEACH, Calif. — Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won for the third straight year at Long Beach as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing cruised to its first victory of the season in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on Saturday.
Graf beat Rebellion Racing’s Nick Heidfeld by 36.329 seconds in the P1 class of the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach.
Luhr started the race third in class and dropped to mid-pack during a caution-filled middle of the race. But it was all planned. The team made its one driver change during a stop 25 minutes in, and Graf battled back through the field to take the overall lead for good with 47 minutes remaining in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03a.
The two lead cars pitted for the final time with an hour to go. Heidfeld replaced Neel Jani in the Rebellion Lola-Toyota, which also took fuel. Meanwhile Graf took just fuel and left the pitlane well before Heidfeld. That proved the difference.
“We’ve definitely had 100 percent the right strategy,” Graf said. “The way the race unfolded, it was perfect. The guys did an awesome job in the pits – no mistakes. The Michelin street soft tires ran excellent – we ran the entire race on just one set. It was such a great weekend, and I am so proud of everybody.”
The victory moved Luhr into a tie for ALMS career victories (42), a mark he shares with Olivier Beretta.
“Sometimes, endurance racing is like this,” Luhr said. “Sometimes you have the busier day, and sometimes you have the easy day. With us two, it doesn’t really matter. I can trust Klaus, and I hope he can trust me. You have to do, what you have to do to win. As a team we understand that. Of course I would have loved to drive more, but at that time you put your ego or your selfishness back a bit, and look at the big picture to do what it takes to win the race. If you have a problem with that attitude, you’re in the wrong business.”
Extreme Speed Motorsports finished 1-2 in its second race as part of the P2 class with Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo winning in the No. 01 HPD ARX-03b. The ESM squad took advantage of trouble for defending class winner Level 5 Motorsports, which suffered contact and penalties in the pits.
“It feels great,” said Sharp, who was a P2 winner at Long Beach in 2008 with Patrón Highcroft Racing. “With the strength of Level 5, we thought it would take longer than this. We really did a great job as a team coming together. The team has been flat out for two months. We knew as a team it would take a while to figure this car out and get some testing in. It’s great to be back and winning in a prototype car.”
Cosmo took the winning car’s first lead of the race 14 minutes in, getting around Level 5’s Scott Tucker. Following the mid-race pit sequence, Sharp got around Johannes van Overbeek and the No. 02 HPD with 47 minutes remaining.
Van Overbeek and Ed Brown were second, followed by Level 5’s No. 551 HPD of Tucker and Ryan Briscoe.
BMW Team RLL – co-owned by IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal, late-night television star David Letterman and Chicago businessman Mike Lanigan – won in GT in just its second race with its new BMW Z4 GTE as No. 55 co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin led a 1-2 finish in class ahead of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in the No. 56. Auberlen got around Dominik Farnbacher in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R when Farnbacher went wide into turn one.